As the Boston Pride took to the ice for their second game in as many nights, fans gathered at Buffalo’s mecca of hockey, the HarborCenter, to watch the New York Riveters avenge their postseason loss.
The Riveters were a much different looking team than their inaugural iteration. The additions of outstanding players like defender Milica McMillan and star forward Amanda Kessel gave fans hope that their team would be more exciting and competitive than in their first season.
And they were. Through the opening frame, the Riveters were able to stem the tide welling in the neutral-space ‘home team,’ matching Boston’s speed and unleashing a furious forecheck that forced Boston to play in their own zone, and led to several chances.
Unfortunately for the Riveters, and for the rest of the league, the Boston Pride are still a veritable juggernaut.
Following Saturday’s 6-3 win, they have now outscored their opponent 8-1 in the pair of second periods they’ve played so far, and those offensive flourishes have proven to be the deathknell for their adversaries.
Postgame, rookie McMillan was asked how you approach a team like Boston. “You just try to manage the game the best you can,” she said. “You try to stay fresh [with] short shifts. You try to keep them wide, but it’s really hard because their forwards just skate by you. They’re really good at that.”
One of the forwards McMillan was speaking of is rookie Alex Carpenter. The Boston roster didn’t see many changes in the offseason, but the acquisition of the 2015 Riveters first-overall pick has already paid dividends. Both of Boston’s wins have come without the presence of Hilary Knight, and Carpenter’s play has rendered Knight’s absence almost unnoticeable.
In the Pride’s opening game, Carpenter took the puck to the outside, with defenseman Jordyn Burns seeming to have successfully forced Carpenter behind the net. Instead, Carpenter cut to the front and sniped the top corner above Brianne McLaughlin’s glove side. It was nearly a 90 degree turn to the front of the net, executed with amazing precision.
After Saturday’s matchup with the Riveters, Carpenter reflected on the goal — the first of the Pride’s season. “Looking back to last weekend, it was definitely a pretty cool experience to score the first goal of the season for our team. The only thought I had at the time was that we needed a goal to get going during that game. I took a great feed from Duggan in the neutral zone and was fortunate enough to find some space to get to the net. It was a great to be able to kickstart the momentum for our team.”
Carpenter had a similar play against the Riveters, with McMillan as the defender. McMillan did a great job pushing Carpenter out, and as she went to cut back in, she unleashed a dangerous shot that rang off the crossbar. The Riveters goaltender, presumably having seen the play the night before, was leaning away to match the cut, and came within inches of allowing a goal.
Carpenter’s speed and skill are the very hallmark of a Pride team that led them to the first-ever Isobel Cup Championship. Despite two commanding wins against much-improved teams, Carpenter said there are still things the Pride can improve upon.
“I think we had a very strong start to the season. One thing that I think we were great at was with how hard we worked.” She went on to note, “It starts in practice and you could see that translate into the game which is always nice to see. One area we could maybe improve would be discipline and staying out of the box, although our penalty kill did a great job when we did see those shorthanded moments.”
Staying out of the box will be important for the Pride, who committed nine penalties in two games. Their lone mistake was a McMillan goal that sparked a Riveters’ comeback. In a season where many players will have to leave for international duties, that extra time on the penalty kill could wear on a team, diminishing their speed, which is their greatest strength.
Conversely, the Pride will need to do better on the power play as the season progresses. They had 10 opportunities in the two opening tilts, and only netted one goal. Many of those power plays were drawn by another offseason pickup, National Team captain Meghan Duggan.
Noted for her intense physical play, Duggan is often on the receiving end of retaliation, which leads to a power play for her team. After Boston’s second win of the season, ‘Captain America’ was asked if her ability to draw penalties was a bit of gamesmanship, or something that happens in the heat of the moment. “Penalties are a part of the game and this weekend was no different. I just try to focus on going hard and making things happen every time I step on the ice – to give my team a man advantage in the process is a great bonus.”
Duggan and Carpenter join an already deep Boston team, and have come together to be one of the Pride’s most dominating lines. It will be interesting to see if the two remain together once Knight does return from an undisclosed injury.
Their next game comes on October 15 — their home opener against the Buffalo Beauts. Should Knight return for the matchup, the dominating Boston team fans caught a glimpse of on opening weekend will seem tame in comparison.