*Author's Note - The following charts and statistics were compiled by the author of this article while attending the game and cross-referenced with available game footage. Very slight discrepancies exist between official NWHL statistics and the author's statistics.*
The New York Riveters have been playing with fire since the season resumed following the Four Nations Cup break and it burned them last Sunday against the Buffalo Beauts. Despite earning their first two wins of the season prior to hosting the Beauts, the Riveters have been struggling in their past three games with shot suppression as well as generating their own chances, both in quantity and quality. Let's take a look at the numbers and break down the shot selection and differential between New York and Buffalo from November 29.
New York Riveters
The Riveters have been plagued by slow starts this season, with the anomalous offensive blitz against the Boston Pride on November 22 being the exception. The team has improved their play steadily and significantly since the season started, but their offense is still dormant. In the first period against the Beauts, the Riveters registered six shots on net, four of which came from the high-quality area. When 66% of your shots are coming from dangerous spots on the ice, that is good news. However, when those shots are easily seen by goaltender Brianne McLaughlin and fail to generate secondary and tertiary chances, then the value of that significant percentage is diminished. Also, one of their shots came from the neutral zone... not exactly a "high-scoring area." Not many teams win games on an 18-shot pace, so something had to change.
The players and jerseys stayed the same, but the New York Riveters looked like a different team in the second period. Their zone entries were improving and once they crossed the opposing blue line they started to crash and crowd the crease. The team started to park some bodies in front and utilize the point, leading to some deflections and rebound opportunities which were sent wide. Many of those primary chances came from outside the circles, but the Riveters were applying the pressure and following up on those chances. This sustained offense culminated in a brilliant goal by Madison Packer, her third in three games, after she dangled a defender and roofed a wrist shot from just below the hash mark.
New York had a fragile one goal lead heading into the third period which they would not be able to build upon. Brianne McLaughlin was fantastic in net for the Beauts and deserves a lot of credit for her team's first win. The Riveters continued their pressure in front of McLaughlin's blue paint and were firing shots from dangerous areas, but the faulty execution of their shots detracted from the quality shot selection. A few squandered chances, either off of misfires or hesitations, as well as not using the point with screens in front allowed McLaughlin to hold New York back. The entirety of the Riveters' shots came from the faceoff dots and in, but the few rebound chances and shots from the slot would not find the twine thanks to the Beauts goalie.
The Riveters finished the game with 27 shots, 14 of which originated from the high-quality area between the circles. It was not until the third period that New York applied sustained pressure in front of Brianne McLaughlin, but she was able to turn aside the opposition's chances. Madison Packer was the only Riveter able to solve McLaughlin, and her shot would have beaten almost anyone in net. New York found space in the circles after entering the zone, but could not follow up on most of their primary chances. Overall, the Riveters slowly improved their shot selection and generation as the game progressed, but too many missed opportunities off of extra passes, misfired shots, and clear lanes for the goalie let a potential victory slip through their hands.
The Buffalo Beauts had their strongest start of the season but were unable to capitalize on their chances, including multiple power play opportunities, in the first period. The Beauts have been abysmal on the man advantage and their situation did not improve against New York who were clogging lanes and blocking shots at an alarming rate. Despite some shaky shot selections meeting shin pads and end boards, the Beauts still posted 10 shots in the period. Unlike the Riveters, the Beauts were quick to get the puck to the slot and around the crease of Nana Fujimoto. However, the Japanese national made a couple jaw-dropping pad saves on prime scoring opportunities. Buffalo utilized the point to send passes down the half-wall, creating space for wingers to generate cross-crease passes and shots within 10 feet of Fujimoto.
The pattern continued into the second period for Buffalo. The team was creating ample chances but could not get anything past Fujimoto. The Beauts crashed the net, quite literally on a disallowed goal, and focused on getting the puck into the slot. The lack of point shots is indicative of the Beauts employing puck-moving defensemen, with the bulk of shots coming from passes which were centered from the half-wall or directed toward the net from that area hoping for a rebound or a puck with eyes. The strategy was sound, generating eight high-quality shots and several more from the circles. The only thing that needed to change was Fujimoto's flawless performance.
Persistence paid off and the Beauts got their wish. Despite the Riveters crowding the slot and doing a keen impression of a turtle with their defensive mindset, Buffalo broke through thanks to Devon Skeats. Her rush down the wing forced the Riveters defense to collapse in front of the net, allowing Skeats to skate to the faceoff dot and rip a shot past Fujimoto. Less than four minutes later, the Beauts would finally capitalize on one of their cross-crease passes. Kourtney Kunichika whipped a puck from the circle in front of the net where Skeats was waiting by the backdoor, tipping the puck into the net and giving the Beauts a 2-1 lead. Hailey Browne sealed the win with an empty net goal she could have skated in with seven seconds remaining.
Overall, the Beauts won the game with persistent, consistent shot generation in dangerous areas and great goaltending. They outshot the Riveters by a notable 37-27, but the true difference is evident in their high-quality shot selection. Buffalo directed 24 dangerous shots toward Fujimoto, just three less than ALL of the Riveters' shots in the game. The 13 high-quality chances for the Riveters were not enough to beat Brianne McLaughlin more than once, and the Beauts skated away with their first win of the season.