The New York Riveters have beaten the league-leading Boston Pride twice, but lost four times, including their last three matchups by a large margin. Head coach Chad Wiseman was able to tie together two wins in November after an early season dismantling on home ice after the Pride arrived late to the game.
Boston and New York will meet in the first round of the Isobel Cup Playoffs at the Raymond Bourque Arena. The puck drops on March 4th at 7:00 PM, which means that the Riveters’ coaching staff has plenty of time to debate which of their four practice players will be in the lineup filling the injured Erin Barley-Maloney’s spot.
Barley-Maloney has not played a single regular season game for New York after suffering an undisclosed injury sometime around Riveters’ exhibition games. With the versatile Cornell forward unavailable all season, the Riveters regularly turned to their non-roster players to fill the gap.
The Riveters have also had their depth tested due to injuries to key skaters like Lyudmila Belyakova and Madison Packer this season. When Nana Fujimoto and Shenae Lundberg (before being traded in exchange for Chelsea Laden to the Whale) were also injured for a time and out of the lineup, the Riveters dressed six defenders and eleven forwards — which is a luxury they no longer have with a healthy trio of goaltenders.
Which begs the question: do the Riveters have a better chance of winning in the playoffs with six defenders or eleven forwards? And if it is eleven forwards, which (healthy) skater is their best option against the red hot Boston Pride?
All data (through 2/14) courtesy @Classlicity
The Case for Amber Moore
Moore played an important role for the team early in the season when Sydney Kidd was stuck in Canada with visa issues. The big, physical defender has some of the worst possession metrics on the team, but her play has improved dramatically as the season has progressed. No longer is Moore guilty of chaining defensive zone penalties together the way that she was in October and November.
Moore’s physical strength is something that will come in handy against some of the big Boston forwards, especially Hilary Knight. If Moore is in the lineup it would also mean less ice time for cornerstone defenders Ashley Johnston and Kiira Dosdall which would be a tremendous boon to the lineup considering New York and Boston will play at least two days in a row.
When the Riveters did overcome the Pride this season, they won tight games thanks to outstanding goaltending from Fujimoto. Rolling three defensive pairs would help to keep legs fresh, but it can only help the team if Moore is given the defensive zone starts and tough assignments that the coaching staff has seemed hesitant to give her at times during the season.
Against the Whale on the the 28th Moore was used sparingly, in a close, back-and-forth game which makes one wonder just how much she can really help the legs of her fellow defenders if she only sees somewhere around ten minutes of ice time. If Moore isn’t trusted by the coaching staff to compete against the dangerous forwards on the Pride, dressing her as the sixth defender doesn’t make a great deal of sense.
The Case for an Eleventh Forward
The greatest case for New York dressing the “extra” forward is that it would appear to help the them in both shots and puck movement. Boston has the best possession metrics in the league and they have been dominant at even strength with an even strength Corsi For percentage of 66.25 percent. The fact that the Riveters will lose the possession battle is all but a foregone conclusion, so the question then becomes which forward brings the most valuable skill set in the matchup with the Pride?
Cherie Stewart: Stewart might be the slowest player on the team, but she has a knack for putting pucks in the net that can’t be taught. Considering that the Riveters were outscored 29 to 10 in the season series, the Manhattanville winger could make a big difference on the power play and during offensive zone starts. The real issue is that the Riveters rarely get offensive zone starts and Stewart has not been given a chance to prove her worth on the power play in the four games she has dressed for.
Taylor Holze: When Holze was healthy and a regular in the lineup, the Riveters were playing some of their worst hockey of the season. Despite her poor metrics, Holze stood out as a tireless player that made up for her small stature with tremendous work ethic and good speed. The diminutive forward, if she is able to return for the playoffs, is the heart of the Riveters’ locker room and would give her team a tremendous lift both on and off the ice.
Margot Scharfe: The Canadian-born Scharfe is a fine defensive forward that brings a little bit of everything to the lineup — except for offense. Scharfe makes superb snap decisions both with the puck and can be depended on both in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill. Like Stewart, she has not been given a chance to make an impression despite playing solid hockey in a very limited role. Scharfe was in the Riveters lineup this past Sunday and although she didn’t see much ice time, she certainly didn’t look out of place with her intelligent, responsible play.
The health of All-Star forward Morgan Fritz-Ward will also likely play a significant role in which non-roster player (or players) the Riveters tap for their first-ever playoff series. Fritz-Ward left the Riveters game on February 20th against the Beauts with what appeared to be an upper body injury and didn’t play in the Riveters regular season finale against the Whale this past Sunday. If Fritz-Ward isn’t available due to injury, the Riveters’ coaching staff will again have to determine which practice players are at the top of their very fluid depth chart.
Will it be the physical Moore who steps into the lineup on the blue line for Game One? Or will it be Stewart, Scharfe, or mabye a healthy Holze who serve as the tenth forward and bring with them better puck management?