Lost in the Riveters 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Beauts at the close of January was Nana Fujimoto’s best game in months. Fujimoto’s 42-save game against Buffalo came just a week after turning in a stellar performance during the NWHL’s All-Star weekend while representing Team Pfalzer.
It was also her first game with a better than .900 save percentage since the loss to Buffalo on November 29th, which also happened to be the game that Fujimoto left due to injury.
Since that loss in late November, the crease in New York has belonged to Jenny Scrivens. Although Scrivens failed to record a win while filling in as New York’s starting netminder, she gave her team a chance to win every game while facing an onslaught of high quality chances.
The Riveters’ dismal record of 3-9-2 and league-worst 58 goals against is hardly the fault of their goaltenders. Defensive breakdowns, special teams struggles and an inability to score goals have kept the NWHL’s flagship franchise winless since two days after Christmas.
As exceptional as Scrivens has been, the role of starting goaltender remains Fujimoto’s to lose.
The Japanese star is the highest paid player on the Riveters and the league’s second-highest paid goaltender. What role the newly acquired Chelsea Laden will play during the home stretch remains to be seen, but the chances are good that head coach Chad Wiseman will be calling on Fujimoto in the hopes that she shakes off whatever rust that might be lingering.
New York’s loss on Sunday was Fujimoto’s first start and full game since December 27th when she backstopped the Riveters in a 7-3 win against a shorthanded Beauts team. However, Fujimoto was not quite herself in that road win and allowed three goals, including a shorthanded goal to Kourtney Kunichika, on 28 shots. New York was able to overwhelm Buffalo and their short bench by pouring on seven goals, including a Meghan Fardelmann hat trick, against Amanda Makela and Brianne McLaughlin.
But this past weekend a different Fujimoto was in net for New York.
#NWHL Nana Fujimoto (@NanaFujimoto33) stops Meghan Duggan on a breakaway pic.twitter.com/rw3JP0VwHy
— NWHL Gifs (@nwhlgifs) January 31, 2016
Time and again she shut the door against the Beauts. The only goal that got past her at even strength last Sunday was a Shelby Bram deflection of a monstrous Megan Bozek slap shot. The other two shots that beat Fujimoto both came from the stick of Kelly Steadman on the power play. One of Steadman’s goals came after some rapid puck movement on a five-on-three advantage.
If not for the resurfacing of disciplinary struggles that the Riveters have had this season, New York would have had a chance to steal that game despite being outplayed throughout by the Beauts. New York was outshot 46 to 22 by Buffalo, but only lost the game by two goals, one of which was an empty netter.
That is how good Fujimoto was on Sunday, and that is how good Wiseman and the Riveters are hoping she will be this Saturday against the Boston Pride and their lethal combination of chemistry and star power.
Fujimoto finally returning to form after battling her injury is just the sort of news that the Riveters and their fans needed with just four regular season games remaining in the NWHL’s inaugural season. Any hockey fan with a few years of fandom under their belt knows just how important a hot goaltender is in the postseason. If the Riveters can find a way to stay out of the box, generate more scoring chances, and steer clear of their dependence on “counter-punch hockey” Fujimoto will almost certainly take care of the rest.