Hungry Whale Ready to Test Undefeated Pride
By Mike Murphy
This Saturday, the Boston Pride will look to preserve and build upon their undefeated record against the visiting Connecticut Whale at the Warrior Ice Arena.
Saturday’s contest will mark the first meeting between the Pride and Whale in the 2019-20 season. The last time these two teams crossed paths on the ice was Feb. 24, 2019. The Pride came away with a 6-1 victory that afternoon thanks in large part to a three-assist game from October Player of the Month McKenna Brand, but both clubs have gone through significant changes since then.
The Whale are a defense-first team led by shot-blocking extraordinaire Shannon Doyle and fellow veteran defenders Jordan Brickner and Elena Orlando. Connecticut’s resilient blue line and projected starting goaltender Sonjia Shelly will have their hands full against Boston’s fast and furious offense.
Boston is averaging 5.25 goals per-game (G/GP) and 45.63 shots for per-60 minutes (SF60). Those rates tower over the NWHL’s other four teams. Somehow, the Whale need to find a way to bend, but not break against a team that has three scoring lines and some of the best puck-moving defenders in the game, including Kaleigh Fratkin who currently leads all defenders in scoring (2 goals, 9 assists).
The Pride lead the league in scoring because their offense resembles a hydra; there are simply too many threats to keep track of and to try to stymy with your best defensive players. The Pride have seven different skaters with four or more goals this season; the Minnesota Whitecaps are their closest competition with three. Granted, the Pride have played the most games at this point in the season, but this offense looks like its in a league of its own as we approach Thanksgiving.
If the Pride show up on Saturday displaying the same form that has led to their 8-0-0 start, they will be the heavy favorites in this one. However, it would be a mistake to consider the Whale to be easy prey.
Connecticut’s PP Needs to Connect
The Whale did not want to start the 2019-20 campaign with an 0-5-1 record, but there’s evidence that suggests this team can turn things around.
Last Sunday, the Whale blanked the Buffalo Beauts’ elite power play, going 3-for-3 on the kill. That in and of itself was a victory as the team had the worst PK in the league heading into the international break. The Whale have also lost five of their six games by a margin of two goals or less and have surrendered more empty-net goals (3) than any other team in the league. In other words, if a few bounces went the other way in October and/or last weekend, the Whale’s record could look dramatically different.
One way that the Whale can take their fate into their own hands is to improve on the other half of special teams. Connecticut has had more success drawing penalties than any other team in the league – averaging 5.67 power play opportunities per game – but they have the worst power play in the NWHL (8.82%). On paper, the Whale have the requisite skill to have a successful power play. Potting a goal on the power play against the Pride on Saturday could give the team’s offense the spark it needs. Of course, in order to do that, the Whale will need to find a way to solve the 5-foot-11 riddle that is Pride goaltender Lovisa Selander.
Selander is well on her way to having the best rookie season we’ve seen from an NWHL goaltender since Jaimie Leonoff’s sensational performance in the league’s inaugural season. In eight starts, Selander has yet to turn in a single-game performance with a save percentage below .920. She leads the league in every goaltending statistic of note.
Saturday’s game at the Warrior Ice Arena in Boston begins at 6:30 p.m. EST. Tickets for the game and all Pride home games are available at pride.nwhl.zone/tickets. Saturday’s game can be viewed streaming live and free on twitch.tv/nwhl2. You can find all NWHL streams on game day at nwhl.zone/nwhl-on-twitch.
Photo Credit: Bryan Johnson