BUFFALO, N.Y. — The NWHL’s opening weekend wrapped up after the final buzzer sounded on Sunday. After fans watched the Boston Pride dominate two games, they were treated to a more even game, in which the Buffalo Beauts outpaced the Connecticut Whale 5-4.
In true Beauts versus Whale fashion, Buffalo fell behind 4-2, but came back quick and strong in the third period to tie the game, and finally took their first lead of the season.
With the win, the Beauts are in second place in the NWHL standings for the first time in their history. Their 0.500 record is the best they’ve ever been.
There are a lot of positives to take from the game, but also some worrisome tendencies they’ve demonstrated early in the season.
Second period struggles haunted the Beauts in both of their games, having been outscored 7-1 in the middle frame. After Sunday’s win, coach Craig Muni quipped, “We’ve talked about our second period, and I don’t know if [maybe] the ice is tilted and our girls are skating up ice.
After a pause for a chuckle, he continued; “I reminded them this is our home arena and we want to play we want to play all three periods — we want to win all three periods, and not just two periods.”
On the bright side, the Beauts’ special teams have proven to be on fire in the early going. The team was a league-worst 79.7 penalty kill percentage last season. Over their first two games, the team has allowed only one goal in 10 power play attempts. This includes an extended five-on-three to protect the lead late in the third period.
Muni, who took the reins as head coach for the first time, said, “There is a difference when you have a big player that can skate and play and a small player that can skate and play.
“When the taller players are out there, they take up a lot more room. Their sticks are longer, they’re also in passing lanes. I tried to go with some of the taller players that can skate, and that meant the skill players killed penalties today.”
One of those players was Kelley Steadman, who didn’t see much time on the penalty kill in her first season. Things are different for the Beauts this year, though, and Steadman understands that means new roles for everyone. “Last year, we had a lot of good veteran players who were great on the penalty kill – people like Shelby Bram that are little and quick, and [Meghan] Duggan obviously was a huge part of that, too.”
When asked about her new role, she continued, “I was out there usually with Shiann [Darkangelo] and I think we just work pretty well off of one another. Our ‘D’ are really good. It’s easy to play with them.”
Darkangelo spoke about her role as a penalty killer, as well. “We worked as a four-man unit. I stayed in my lane and was focusing on blocking shots because they have some good players on their team that will shoot the puck and obviously can put the puck in the net. Communicating out there and working together; having each other’s backs, we were able to defend it.”
Steadman and Darkangelo were certainly a formidable pair on the kill, and had a great opportunity to score a shorthanded goal with time ticking down in the third.
The Beauts’ power play got their first goal of the season when Emily Janiga snuck behind the Whale defense to deflect a shot from the point up and over the extended pad of Shenae Lundberg. They went 2-for-8 over the weekend, which is a vast improvement from their first season.
Of course, Buffalo also managed a shorthanded goal in their opener, as Harrison Browne beat Pride goaltender Brittany Ott after splitting the Boston defense. Combined with the near miss from Steadman and Darkangelo, it is evident that Buffalo is working hard to lead the league in shorthanded goals for the second consecutive season.
The Beauts’ special teams will face another intense challenge on Oct. 16 when they travel to Boston’s Warrior Arena. They held the potent Pride power play at bay in their first matchup, blanking Boston over four opportunities, and if they intend to come back to Buffalo with a winning record for the first time in their existence, the Beauts’ special teams are going to have to play a key role once again.
Buffalo will certainly have revenge on their mind as they shuffle off to Beantown.