After that initial 3-0 run, it seems like the rest of the league has figured out the Boston Pride.
For the third week in a row, the Pride lost by one goal, this time 4-3, in front of their home crowd at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center. Facing the undefeated Connecticut Whale was never going to be an easy task, but the combination of the Whale’s nearly impenetrable defense and the effort made by their goalkeeper Jaimie Leonoff made it a harsh reality.
Just like last week against the Riveters, the Pride went down 1-0 in the opening minute of the game. After the Pride won the opening face off, Shiann Darkangelo snatched up a stray pass intended for Brianna Decker and went top shelf on Brittany Ott to give the Whale the early lead.
Halfway through the period, Decker was sent to the penalty box for tripping, giving the Whale their first power play opportunity. Rather than being considerate and getting the second goal over with, the Whale scored just a few seconds before the penalty minutes expired. Shannon Doyle jumped on a puck that was misplayed by Hilary Knight and fired a slap shot through traffic from the center point to find Ott’s net.
In the second period, Ott allowed the Whale’s third goal on a backhanded flip from Darkangelo and was pulled from the game 30 seconds later. Lauren Slebodnik took over in net and faced only a handful of shots on goal. At the other end of the ice, Leonoff played a tight game and denied the vast majority of the Pride’s 41 shots on goal.
Northeastern University’s own Rachel Llanes was the standout player for the Pride in the second period, spoiling what could have been a shutout for Leonoff. In a perfect world, she would have had a hat trick in the final ten minutes of the second period alone. First, she flew down the ice on a shorthanded breakaway, but was, by some miracle for the Whale, denied. Kaleigh Fratkin flung her stick down the ice at Llanes during the breakaway, earning Llanes a penalty shot, but she lost the puck and Leonoff blocked her recovery shot.
Here's the Llanes penalty shot attempt: pic.twitter.com/7dw8OQijRa— StanleyCup ofChowder (@cupofchowdah) November 29, 2015
Thirty seconds later, the Whale made it 4-0.
But Llanes wasn’t done yet. With .4 seconds left in the period, she snuck one between Leonoff’s pads to finally get one on the board for the Pride. If Buffalo could do it, why couldn’t we?
Boston kept the pressure on in the third, but the Whale, just like the Riveters, continued employing the hockey version of what they call "parking the bus" in soccer. The defense remained close to the net and denied nearly all attempts to even get near the goal. Late in the period, the Pride pulled the goalie during a power play to give them a six-on-four advantage. Amanda Pelkey’s wrister made it past Leonoff to cut the lead to 4-2. With 1:25 left, Decker fed Kacey Bellamy, who took the outside shot and found Leonoff’s net, once again, on the power play. However, it was too little, too late.
Not only were they unable to serve the Whale their first loss, I couldn’t make the "IT WAS 4-1" joke, which is equally upsetting.
Now that we’re six games deep in the season, some patterns have started to emerge. The Riveters and the Whale have been able to shut down the Pride’s offensive firepower by occupying the middle of the ice and protecting their goalie. To remedy this, Amanda Pelkey said postgame that the strategy must be to "have traffic in front of the net so the goalie can’t see, but we also have to get shots through to even have chances to score." The shots have certainly been there, but few have found it past the goalie as of late.
The Pride’s best chance to do this is obviously when they have the man advantage, meaning that it is crucial for them to capitalize on power play opportunities. According to the NWHL’s stats, the Pride have scored eight goals in 29 power play opportunities, or 27.6 percent. Only the Buffalo Beauts have had more power play chances than them with 31. As Kacey Bellamy mentioned last week, the team would greatly benefit from having an additional practice every week, especially for special teams.
Tonight Pelkey also noted the Pride’s issue of being slow starters, made clear by the early goals and sloppy play in the first period of each of the past two games. According to the Whale’s Doyle, their team motto is "burn the boats," which means they leave everything out on the ice and "every game we’re thinking of as our last game," she said.
The Pride could use a little of that fire, especially going into a weekend when they’ll be playing Buffalo on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. and New York the next day at 3:00 p.m.