After five months of late night practices, overnight bus trips, injuries, heartache, and elation, the NWHL season has reached its apex. The Isobel Cup final series is about to kick off between the league’s best team in the regular season, the Boston Pride, and the upswinging underdog, the third seeded Buffalo Beauts.
The Pride enter the matchup as heavy favorites. They scored thirteen goals in their first round victory over the New York Riveters. While the Riveters made a good run in the second game, they were unable to impede the high-powered offense of the Boston team.
The Beauts have had some success against Boston – while they were only able to defeat the Pride once in the regular season, they played several close games, losing by the narrowest of margins in most instances. The team had designed a system which was effective in shutting down the powerful Pride scoring machine.
So how can they build no their past successes and bring home the Isobel Cup?
Slow and Steady
The Pride are a team that depends on a fast pace. They move the puck quickly; they transition quickly, they cycle quickly – their success is synonymous with speed. When they cycle they’re trying to draw the players out, away from the net, then they send a player into the gap for the backdoor pass.
The backdoor play has been a weakness for Buffalo throughout the season, and even in their playoff series against Connecticut. Too often, the team gets puck-focused and loses their head-on-a-swivel mentality. They lose track of players going to the net, which frequently ends up in a scoring play for their opponent – especially on the power play.
Buffalo has demonstrated they can counter this rapid-fire system. They have proven they can keep the Pride to the outside, but not get drawn out themselves. If they can get bodies on shots and sticks on passes, they can disrupt the flow Boston very easily establishes.
They need to constantly be aware of the Pride players in their zone, though; the Whale executed this play several times in the first round of the playoffs, and fortunately for Buffalo, they were unable to connect. Boston will not make that mistake – the pass will be tape-to-tape and the puck will be in the net.
Goal by Devon Skeats (@Skeatsyy). @BuffaloBeauts lead 2-0 over the Whale at the end of the 1st. #NWHL #IsobelCup pic.twitter.com/B3FNpD5Ncp
— NWHL Gifs (@nwhlgifs) March 6, 2016
Buffalo needs to be more aware in the offensive zone, as well. Boston’s transition game is high on the list of their strengths, and the Beauts’ defense has been consistently contributing on the offensive side. Buffalo’s forwards need to be aware if the defense pinch, or even follow the puck down low.
On the play above, defenseman Kelly McDonald snags the puck at the side of the net and gets it out front to Skeats, who buries it. This is a fantastic play, and Buffalo should not abandon a strategy that includes the defense on scoring opportunities, but the forwards do need to be aware and fill in where necessary.
Strict, Persistent Discipline
If the Beauts are going to take home the Isobel cup, the most important thing that the team must do is remain disciplined. Of course the points above speak to discipline – the team cannot lose focus and get caught out of position.
Above all of that, though, the team absolutely needs to stay out of the penalty box.
The Beauts were the least penalized team in the regular season, but in the opening series against Connecticut, the team gave their opponent 16 power play opportunities. They cannot make the same mistake against Boston.
The Pride had 13 power play opportunities in their opening series, and converted on 5, for a 0.385 conversion percentage. The Beauts cannot afford to let Boston get the best of them on special teams.
The good news for Buffalo is that Boston also allowed four power play goals in their two games against New York. Knowing this, the Pride may try to draw Buffalo into coincidental minors, but the Beauts absolutely cannot retaliate. Right now, Megan Bozek is unstoppable on the point, and Buffalo would certainly benefit from those opportunities with the man advantage.
If they remain disciplined, take the cross-check after the play, and skate away, they’ll be able to make Boston pay on the scoreboard.
The teams are set for what appears to be an amazing championship series. Buffalo and Boston started the season against each other, and now they will end the season squaring off for the Isobel Cup. If Buffalo is going to prevail, they need to control the pace and remain disciplined for a full 60 minutes.
Game one of the Isobel Cup Championship takes place on Friday, March 11 at 7:30pm.