In hockey, penalties are an affliction which can harm a team in several ways. The New York Riveters have been reminded of this lesson in each of their first three games this season. The team's pursuit of their first win has been hindered by the scourge of penalties, manifesting in their many symptomatic forms. This is not to say that the Riveters' penalty kill has been the cause of the team's woes, in fact they have been one of the bright spots on the ice. However, it is important to recognize that penalties are not only harmful when they lead to goals by the opposition's power play unit. Let's take a look at the ways in which the Riveters have been hurt by penalties this season.
Game 1: Inopportune Penalties
The Riveters began their season on the road against the Connecticut Whale. Being not only the first game of the season but the first game in league history, it was to be expected that nerves were going to be an important part of the game for both teams. When this is the case, it is important for a team to settle into their game and secure a strong start. Unfortunately, New York began the game with three penalties in the first half of the first period.
Kira Dosdall's interference penalty at the 1:44 mark of the opening period taken during a zone breakout put the Riveters on the penalty kill and surrendered the first surge of momentum to Connecticut. Jessica Koizumi would make history on the ensuing power play by scoring the first goal in NWHL history and quickly putting the Whale in the lead. Madison Packer would be involved in off-setting roughing minors on the next shift following the goal, possibly looking to spark her team. The Riveters were not quite able to answer the rallying call and roughly five minutes later Ashley Johnston would take a hooking penalty behind her own net and the Riveters went into the locker room without any real sustained pressure in the first period.
Inopportune early penalties robbed the Riveters of any potential momentum and forced them to play catch-up right out of the gate. The team surrendered a power play goal on their first penalty kill attempt and found themselves down 1-0 on the road. With the nerves of the game and team chemistry in its infancy, it was a difficult task to get back into the flow and New York was unable to surmount the deficit.
Game 2: Too Many Penalties
The next game for New York would be their home opener and would pit them against the Boston Pride. Sporting names such as Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker, and Zoe Hickel, Boston is not a team you want to put on the man-advantage where they can impose their elite skill and scoring prowess. The Pride also have the advantage of preexisting chemistry due to the high number of players on the roster who have played together for the Boston Blades of the CWHL. Overall, the Pride are a team that will overwhelm you with their firepower if you give them the chance. What the Riveters did over the next 60 minutes of hockey is a prime example of shooting oneself in the foot.
Again, New York got off to a bad start and allowed a goal off the stick of Zoe Hickel less than a minute into the game. The game showed early signs of being a chippy affair with some after-the-whistle scrums, active sticks, and frequent uses of the body. By the end of the period the Riveters were down 2-0 and would start the second period on the penalty kill after a boarding minor was called against Morgan Fritz-Ward. The team killed off the penalty and rallied to bring the game within one with a goal from Gabie Figueroa. Suddenly the Riveters were looking alive and the ice looked a little more level. The team faltered when given a power play opportunity which could have tied the game, but instead gave up a shorthanded goal. Emotions were boiling over and frustration was beginning to affect the Riveters. Madison Packer took a double-minor roughing penalty and the team was starting to lose its composure. They would enter the third period with a two goal deficit, but the game was still within reach.
Then the wheels came off. The Riveters took three more penalties in the final period and gave up four more goals, including a power play goal to Jordan Smelker. In total, New York went to the penalty box eight times during the game. Playing shorthanded so often against a team as good as the Boston Pride is bound to end in a loss, and the 7-1 loss that the Riveters were handed by the Pride shows just how pivotal it is to keep your focus on the game when things are not going the way you plan. The abundance of penalties made it impossible for the Riveters to respond and rally against the onslaught they faced.
Game 3: Costly Penalties
The third game of the season was a rematch against the Connecticut Whale, this time on home ice. New York seemed to have gotten the message after the game against the Pride. Right at the start, the Riveters looked to be a smarter team after their hard lesson the week before. They were generating chances and controlling more of the play. Then Lyudmila Belyakova took a penalty, one of her two in the period, halfway through the first period and Connecticut scored on the power play. Just like that, the team found themselves down again due a power play goal against.
The team got right back into the game in the second period by staying out of the box and scoring a power play goal of their own thanks to Ashley Johnston. The Riveters were showing signs of finding their game and the game remained even into the third period. However, Figueroa took a high-sticking penalty and Connecticut took the lead with a power play goal and never looked back.
Overall, the game was the finest the Riveters have played and that is reflected in the score. The 3-1 loss, which included an empty net goal against, could easily have been a 3-1 victory in favor of New York, but the penalties they took were too costly. Allowing two power play goals on three opportunities awarded during play (Janine Weber was assessed the Riveter's fourth penalty at the final whistle) can deflate a team. The Riveters lost yet their third straight game due to the scourge of penalties and the many ways they hurt your team.
There is hope on the horizon though. The Riveters are coming off of their best game of the season and have had the last couple weeks to work on their system and practice as a team due to the NWHL break for the Four Nations Cup. It will be exciting to watch how New York composes themselves and handles their rematch against Boston back in Brooklyn when the puck drops this Sunday.