In a mirror image of the inaugural game that started the first NWHL season, the New York Riveters will take on the Connecticut Whale in Stamford, Conn. to close the door on the regular season. The Riveters and the Whale come into their final game in fourth and second place respectively, and match ups are already set for the semifinals, which begin next weekend. The Riveters will play the Boston Pride in Everett, Mass., while the Whale will host the Buffalo Beauts at home.
Despite the certainty of opponents next week each team has a lot to gain from a win today.
Can the Riveters close the book on the season with a win?
The last-place team sorely needs a win, having struggled against skill-heavy teams like the Pride and Whale since the beginning of the season, eking out a win or two through sheer determination and a little bit of luck.
As has been detailed, their head coach, Chad Wiseman, leans on a defense-heavy system. To its detriment, offensive production has regularly been smothered in favor of dump-and-chase play.
A win against the Whale to close out the season would give Wiseman’s roster the confidence it needs to upset the Pride’s elite players in the upcoming semifinals. To do that, New York would need to see top-line minutes and production from shooters such as Brooke Ammerman, Madison Packer, Lyudmila Belyakova and Morgan Fritz-Ward, as well as elite goaltending from Nana Fujimoto. The Riveters can rupture the Whale’s systems but the team needs the forward momentum to do so.
Will the Whale find their fire?
Connecticut, though one of the strongest teams in the four-team league, has seen some of the fire go out of their game over the past month or so, leaving the team playing less than the full 60 each week. The Whale has the strength of skill necessary to win the Isobel Cup, but does it have the motivation?
This has resulted in one upset loss to Boston a week ago where the Pride came from behind in the third to crush the Whale handily when the penalty kill proved ineffective in the third and Connecticut took its inevitable win for granted, losing its hunger for offense. This came just one week after a defensible loss to Boston at Harvard where the Whale put only one shot on goal in the second, struggling to get back in the third.
Two weeks previous saw a somewhat-sloppy game against the Buffalo Beauts where the Whale allowed a good number of offensive zone entries by Buffalo, forcing its defense to hustle and showing fans a team that wasn’t quite what they were expecting. The Whale, it seems, are riding a roller coaster of mental effort, at times giving all, at times checked out.
Connecticut certainly wants those two points from today’s game: not for movement in the standings but for bragging rights, for the confidence in its head coach and in itself.
Can Fratkin stay out of the box?
The Whale’s penalty kill, while at times surprisingly effective, has not been their strength of late. A five-on-three against Boston last week produced several shots from Boston but no goals in the second while the third saw the Pride earn three shorthanded goals against Connecticut.
While Kaleigh Fratkin is not alone in her frequent visits to the penalty box, she is, of late, its most regular inhabitant, with at least two penalties per game taken over the last three tilts, ranging from hooking to body checking to roughing. Her physical style is frequently a boon to the Whale but she has to find the line before the semifinals.
The Whale need to focus on drawing penalties, not offering them, given the sporadically effective state of their penalty kill, particularly when it comes to the Riveters who have the second-best penalty kill in the league, probably due to spending so much time on it.
What about the goalies?
NOTE: @ChelseaLaden & @lundberg_s1 will be facing off against their former teams for the 1st time since the trade! #CTW #NYR
— NWHL Future (@nwhlfuture) February 28, 2016
Last but certainly not least, this will be the first time Chelsea Laden is back in her old barn since the trade to the New York Riveters. Laden will face off against new Whale netminder, Shenae Lundberg; each found themselves more or less out of contention for the starting spot on their original teams when unexpected injuries sidelined them for much of the season. They each have played only one game for their new clubs. While it isn’t yet known if either traded goalie will start the final game, it will certainly be a point of interest for fans and players alike.