If Riveters fans thought the 6-5 shootout loss to the Buffalo Beauts two weeks ago was heartbreaking, Sunday night's 4-3 loss probably gave them a different kind of coronary. Going into the match, the teams were tied for third place in the league; coming out of it, the Riveters had fallen into fourth and last place. More disturbing than the standings, however, was the level of play, which raised serious questions about whether the team can contend in the playoffs.
Nana Fujimoto, whose game seemed to deteriorate briefly after a concussion back in November, was the Riveters' saving grace, making multiple saves on a Buffalo squad led by the league's new leading scorer, Kellie Steadman, who tallied twice for the Beauts. Fujimoto followed up her All-Star performance last weekend with 41 saves and a .931 save percentage. However, as readers of this site know all too well, stellar goaltending simply isn't enough. (Maybe Fujimoto and Lundqvist should start a support group?)
The deadly combination of Steadman, Meghan Duggan, and captain Emily Pfalzer simply dominated possession, leaving the Riveters spinning more than once. The first goal came off a pinball-perfect set of passes from the Beauts while Gabie Figueroa and Celeste Brown fretted in the box. Precision like this would have been hard to stop even at full strength.
Steadman, left alone center slot on the power play, scored her second off a pass from Meghan Duggan in the left corner. At the end of the first period, the score was 2-0, and shots were 18-5 in favor of the Beauts.
But the Riveters are a strong second-period team, and they showed it. Beth Hanrahan sank an unassisted snipe, short side, making it 2-1. Nana continued to dazzle, challenging Meghan Duggan on a shorthanded breakaway and sending her shot wide, then blocking a tip-in, again from Duggan, off Megan Bozek's blast from the point. The period ended with the Beauts holding on to a 2-1 lead, but the Riveters had outshot them, 12-10.
Yes, the Riveters come out strong in the second. However, they're also amassing a history of really bad thirds. They tied the game about eight minutes in, when Brooke Ammerman found a wide-open Bray Ketchum in a 2 on 1. After that, however, the ice tipped steeply in Buffalo's favor. The Riveters simply couldn't maintain possession, much less generate any sort of organized drive. When Shelby Bram tipped home yet another cannon from Bozek, giving the Beauts the lead, the Riveters looked done. Erin Zach's empty netter after coach Chad Wiseman pulled his best player made the final score of Buffalo's first home win 4-2.
The Riveters face Buffalo two more times before the playoffs start in the first week of March, and it's hard to imagine any more 7-3 wins on the horizon. Duggan and Steadman are the most productive pair in the league right now; Pfalzer is tiny lightning, and New York has no match for Bozek's NHL-level shot velocity. While the Riveters are quick to capitalize on others' mistakes, they also can't seem to stay out of the box, giving strong opponents an additional advantage.
It's a hockey cliche because it's true: the Riveters need to figure out how to get more pucks to the net, and that can't happen when they're pinned in their own end. As amazing as it is to see Fujimoto back at full strength, she can only do so much. Hell, ask Henrik Lundqvist.