As 2018 draws to a close, and we head into the holiday season, now is a good time to reflect on the season that has been so far. I have often stated that the Whale this season have shown signs of improvement from last year; so I would like to compare and contrast the team last season, to the team this season. Each team, at this point of the year, have each played seven games on the season.
Last year, at this time, the Whale’s record was two wins, five losses. They scored 11 goals at that point, and unfortunately given up 24 goals against, giving them a goal differential of -13. This season, the team’s record is two wins, four losses, and one shootout loss.
They’ve scored 12 times this season and have given up 23 goals against, for a goal differential of -11. Although seemingly having very similar records, when you look closely at the difference in stats from this season compared to last season, it’s where you begin to notice the signs of improvement the team has gone through.
Even though the goal totals have remained about the same, there are differences as to who leads the team in each department. Through seven games last season, there was a three way tie for the goals lead.
Leading the way then was Kelly Babstock, who now plays for the Beauts; Sam Faber, who retired before the season started; and Emily Fluke, who is now the captain of the team. Each of these three players had two goals through seven games. Leading in the assist department was Kelly Babstock, she posted four assists through seven games, bringing her point totals to six.
This year has been completely different, as it has been the rookie NWHLer and Czech native Katerina Mrázová who has been leading the way with six goals on the season. The six goals she has scored have come in her last five games.
It seems that everything she is throwing at the net has gone in; she also finds herself in the right areas on the ice to put the biscuit in the basket. In her last game, she had a nice deflection goal off a shot that came from Emily Fluke.
Our girl on 🔥 @Mrazka98 with her sixth goal of the season 😱 And that assist from captain @FlukeEmily has us buzzing! Score is 2-1 @BuffaloBeauts at the end of the second! #BUFvsCTW pic.twitter.com/Ch2jtxKbL3
— Connecticut Whale (@CTWhale_NWHL) December 9, 2018
Additionally, Mrázová leads the team with eight points on the year, including two power play goals and one coming while the team was shorthanded. In terms of the setup, there is a tie for the team lead in assists. It is captain Emily Fluke and rookie NWHLer Michelle Löwenhielm who both have three assists on the year. One of Fluke’s assists on the year came via the power play; while Löwenhielm has had an assist on the power play and the penalty kill, feeding both goals to Mrázová.
— NWHL (@NWHL) November 25, 2018
Although the team has a goal differential of -11, there is actually somebody on the team who is in the plus category of the plus/minus stat. She is the only one on the team who can say this and the honor goes to the veteran defensemen Jordan Brickner, who is a plus one.
One of the biggest differences between last year’s team and this season has been the penalty kill. I know, I know, I have talked about the penalty kill to death, but it really needs to be continually stated how good the penalty kill has been all season long.
Currently, the Whale has a 96 percent penalty kill rating, which is best in the league right now. Upon further inspection of the stats, they’ve been on the penalty kill 25 times this season through seven games.
They have only been scored on ONCE all season long. The lone goal came from the Boston Pride on October 20th. Compare this to last season, through seven games; they went on the penalty kill 28 times, and the Whale were burned for seven goals through those games.
As we have learned this season, a good penalty kill can stymie the opposition and can gather momentum, which can lead to greater offensive chances. The Whale proved that this was the case in the games against the Riveters.
— NWHL (@NWHL) November 25, 2018
The power play is slightly better than it was last year, but not by much. Last year, through seven games, the Whale only scored one power play goal on 20 attempts. The lone player who got the goal on the power play was Jamie Goldsmith, and it came against the Boston Pride.
This season, the Whale have been to the power play 21 times and have only managed to score two goals from it. Which is good for a 9.5 power play percentage; both of the goals came from Mrázová, in which she scored against the Riveters and the Pride.
Goaltending has always been a strong suit for the Whale. The past two seasons, their goaltending always kept them in games and even giving them a shot of winning. In the seven games last year, three of them were one goal games, in which the Whale boasted a 2-1 record in those games. The stellar goaltending came from Sydney Rossman, who is now a member of the Minnesota Whitecaps.
There have been two one goal games this season, in which the Whale are 1-1. The goaltending this season has been nothing short of spectacular and that is all thanks to first year NWHLer and the first ever Finnish player in the league Meeri Räisänen. A very late signing in the offseason, just days before their first game, she has turned in some really incredible performances this season; which includes a shutout she recorded on her birthday against the Riveters in Pittsburgh. She has been by far, the reason why the penalty kill has been better and why the team continues to show signs of improvement.
Earlier in the year, when I did my preview for the team, I asked three questions. This seems as good a time as any to see if we got some answers, and possibly ask some new questions for the second half of the season.
First question: How will Emily Fluke build on her incredible rookie season?
Earlier in the article I stated how Emily Fluke was tied for the team lead in goals through seven games with two. Well, she had also posted three assists giving her five points through those seven games, which was good for second best on the team behind Kelly Babstock. During the second half of the year, Emily Fluke went on to post another two goals and three assists, giving her 11 total points on the year and she finished with a plus 2; which was the team lead in every offensive category.
How has she faired this season? Well, first things first, she was named captain of the Whale. A huge honor for her, I’m sure. She has transitioned into her new role very well and has registered one goal on the year, which came against the Pride (She really likes scoring against the Pride). Additionally, she has added three assists on the year, for a total of four points through seven games. A slight dip in numbers, but she is definitely one of the hardest working players out there. It even garnered her honors of being named an NWHL All Star. Safe to say, she’s improved upon her rookie season.
Second question: How will Cydney Roesler do in her new role of being a player/assistant coach?
Earlier in the year, before the season started, the Whale announced that Cydney Roesler would be named an assistant coach. She was going to adjust to a new role of being player/coach. Last year, she was an assistant coach for Quinnipiac University, so it made the most sense to give her such a role. I think she has adjusted rather nicely to this role. There is always something new for her to learn while behind the bench, and she’s been on the ice in four games this season. Her first game wasn’t particularly good, a hat trick of penalties is never a good thing; but in the other three games, she definitely showed that the first game she played is not indicator of anything. I look forward to seeing her continued development in her new role.
Third Question: Who will be the starting goalie for the Whale this season?
As stated earlier in the article, Sydney Rossman was the starting goaltender all last season for the Whale. When the Whitecaps became an official NWHL team, she departed to go play goalie for them. She is from Minnesota, so it really made sense for her. However, it left the team looking for a new goalie. It seemed heading into the season that the goaltending tandem was going to be Sam Walther of Hamilton College or Maria Sorokina of the Russian National Team. Coincidentally, the team chose another option, Meeri Räisänen. The team signed her the same week the Whale were going to face off against the Beauts in their home opener at Terry Conners Rink. She has been the clear cut favorite for the starting goaltender spot ever since, as she has started every game this season. She boasts a record of 2-4-1, a 2.76 GAA, and a .917 save percentage, including one shutout. She was also named an NWHL All Star.
— Connecticut Whale (@CTWhale_NWHL) December 5, 2018
Questions I would like to ask for the second half of the season:
Which players can step up and help create secondary scoring?
As great as Mrázová has been all season long, she can’t do it all by herself. The team seems to go as she goes, which is good and bad. Good, in the sense of her current hot streak; again, everything she is firing at the net is going in, but bad if she (hopefully not) starts going cold. Others will need to start stepping up and help the team score more goals.
What role will Colleen Murphy fulfill for the team on the blue line?
Before the Whale played the Beauts, it was said that Murphy would make her debut. She played well, having one shot on goal in the game. It will be interesting to see what the former Beaut brings to the team with her veteran presence on the blue line.
Can the Whale continue their improvement and finish with a better record than last season?
As stated early on in this article, the Whale were 2-5 last year through seven games, seemingly pretty similar to this season. However last season was definitely not something worth remembering or repeating because the team went on and had a 1-6-2 record in the second half to finish out the year at 3-11-2.
The team is 2-2 in their last four games, having shaken off the cobwebs of the first three games. They have continued to show the signs of improvement; can they keep taking the steps forward and make last season a thing of the past?
We will certainly find out as the next game the Whale will play will be just before the new year on December 30th against the Boston Pride in Connecticut at Terry Conners Rink. The game will be at 3p.
Happy Holidays Whale Fans!