The 2018-19 Buffalo Beauts home opener against the Connecticut Whale could not have been scripted any better if it were a Disney movie. The home team was superior to its opponent in almost every aspect of the game - something that fans of the Queen City are getting used to seeing from its most dominant sports club. The 7-0 victory marks the first back-to-back shutouts in team history, with Shannon Szabados getting her first in her professional women’s hockey career.
For the second consecutive game, the Beauts relented play to the Whale for the first several minutes of the game, even allowing the team to get a lead on shots before rookie and recent National Team Development Camp selection, Savannah Harmon, scored her first goal of her professional career. A streaking Harmon entered the offensive zone and snuck behind an unsuspecting Whale defense, rifling the shot over the left shoulder of goaltender Meeri Raisanen.
A minute passed before another Buffalo rookie, Annika Zalewski, added her first goal as a Beaut. Lisa Chesson assisted on the play.
Buffalo’s defense has routinely been an important part of the club’s offensive dynamic, but is was clear that general manager Nik Fattey wanted to improve the team’s firepower from the back end. Beauts defenders contributed Harmon’s goal and three assists in the matchup, with Chesson offering two and Sarah Casorso adding another.
“We look for our D this year to be a lot more mobile than they have in the past,” coach Ric Seiling explained; “We didn’t have [Emily] Pfalzer there last year, and now she’s back, and when you add the others into it, they’re all very mobile, capable defensemen who can do the job on both offense and defense.”
Seiling and assitant coach Craig Muni certainly feel their defensive core are key components of the team’s scoring ability, lining up three defenders on the second power play unit. It was a new approach for the club as they tried to shake an 0-for-5 performance in the season opener the week prior.
The power play units were unsuccessful again, but the team is gaining important experience, and beginning to ‘gel,’ as Harmon put state to the media. “I think any of our D could be on the power play, it’s definitely super fun to be able to get out there as D partners - it helps us start to gel together and be more productive as partners.”
The Beauts would end the period unleashing 15 shots in the first period on an embattled Raisenen. They finished the game with 34, chasing the Finnish star after scoring the fifth goal on 28 shots.
The team managed to score one in the second period when Maddie Elia clapped home a pass from Hayley Scamurra at 10:59. It was a sloppy period, and Buffalo was lucky to emerge with Szabados’ shoutout intact. A broken play behind the net to try to kill the clock ended up with an incredible chance for Whale forward Katerina Mrazova. Szabados tracked the puck to the front and positioned her self high in the crease. Mrazova fired a shot which the legendary Szabados was able to react to, springing out a leg to make the save. The inconsistet play prompted Seiling to shake up the lines for the first time in the season.
The newly minted groups paid dividends for the team, as they scored four more goals in the third. Zalewski got her second of the night at 5:44; again on a pass from Chesson. Scamurra added a goal as did freshman Juliana Iafallo and Corrine Buie.
Connecticut had visibly improved from the previous week, and had several good chances that tested Szabados. Still, the stifling Buffalo attack retained possession in the offensive zone for marathon shifts, which certainl played a role in the Beauts’ third period dominance.
The team has two weeks off before they will play a pair of big games against the newly-franchised Minnesota Whitecaps, who share first place with the Beauts at the top of the NWHL standings. Despite two strong wins, the team has a lot of work to do in the next two weeks, locking down laxidasical play and strategizing to find their groove on the power play.
“There’s little things we can clean up,” Szabados confessed, “but I thought we played well both games...just kinda keeping the foot on the pedal is what we’ll look to do moving forward, but overall, two solid games for a group that has a lot of new faces in the lineup.
Final: Beauts 7, Whale 0
Shots on Goal: Beauts 34 | Whale 22
Beauts Goals: Savannah Harmon (1), Anikka Zalewski (2), Hayley Scamurra (1), Maddie Elia (1), Julianna Iafallo (1), Corinne Buie (1)
Three Stars of the Game
1. Lisa Chesson (2 A)
2. Hayley Scamurra (1G , 1 A, 6 SOG)
3. Shannon Szabados (22 SA, 22 SAV)