On the back of a very convincing four-game winning streak (and six wins in the last seven matchups), the Buffalo Beauts have turned the table on the season, surging from the middle of the pack at a mediocre .500 to second place in the league, just four points back of Minnesota with a game in hand on the Whitecaps.
There have been a lot of changes for the Beauts since the dismal 3-3 start. The disappointing record caused management to jettison 2017 Isobel Cup champion coach Ric Seiling and assistant Craig Muni. Following their departure, Cody McCormick stepped behind the bench, bringing a new philosophy that has appeared to energize the team. Since being promoted from skills coach, McCormick has also taken on the role of general manager.
The first six games of the season were a showcase for certain groups. Goaltending stood out, for sure - certainly to be expected with arguable the best goaltending duo in professional hockey. The team’s first line was on fire; literally responsible for 60 percent of the team’s goalscoring in that time.
Since that time, the team has continued to score consistently, but the goals are coming from all over the ice. The defense have contributed heavily, with Blake Bolden, Emily Pfalzer, and Savannah Harmon pitching in. The second and third-line forwards have also stepped up, with rookie Juliana Iafallo leading all depth players with four goals - she’s second on the team in shooting percentage (21.1), and one of only five Beauts with a power play goal. Overall, depth scoring is up six percent in the last six games, which is obviously trending toward a more normal production rate.
One area that the Beauts were the weakest in their first six matches was on the power play. The team scored only one goal on the advantage through eight games. The team had 16 tries in games one through six, and only Maddie Elia was able to score.
In the back end of the team’s 12 games, though, the Beauts’ power play units have been en fuego. Currently second in the league at 16.7 percent, the team has scored at a rate of 23.08, which would lead the league if they had been as proficient all year.
In no way has Buffalo been a one-trick pony. While it’s true that the team has scored six power play goals in the last six games, it’s also true that the team has scored 22 goals in that same time. While that’s an impressive 78.6 even strength goals percentage, the team is even better on the season as a whole. The Beauts have actually improved in goals per game in the second half of the season, from 3.33 through December to 3.5 on the year.
Team defense has been fantastic for the Beauts throughout the entire year. Of the team’s four losses, only one came with a margin of more than one goal. In speaking with Dani Cameranesi after the most recent victory at HarborCenter, she said that their focus is on the d-zone first. They work hard to posses the puck and it is a strategy that has paid dividends for the club as they have begun to climb through the standings.
One signifying factor that Buffalo is possessing the puck is the 58.47 shots-for percentage. The team has outshot their opponent in all but two matchups, and have done a great job of limiting their opponents opportunities. When the opposing team does render a shot, it’s an easy save for the goaltenders - demonstrated by the significant margin the Beauts have in shooting percentage.
Buffalo has finally played each of the other teams in the league at least once, and the result is generally the same - no one can beat the Buffalo goaltenders. Even when the Beauts were playing poorly, Shannon Szabados and Nicole Hensley have been nearly unbeatable. The pair combined for a .923 save percentage while the skaters worked to find chemistry and get the scoring sorted out.
Since December 8, the dynamic duo have been even better. They have shut things down with a .966 save percentage - only three of every 100 shots are beating the tandem. This dominance is unseen throughout the professional ranks in any league.
For the Beauts, it’s been a tale of two seasons throughout the team’s fourth campaign. The first six games were a tepid test the club’s perseverance, but they have undoubtedly overcome. There is almost no discernible weakness in the team’s strategy as they hit the home stretch and work toward home-ice for the playoffs. The remaining four matches have their obstacles - only one game will be at home, and they’re battling through a lineup shuffle that has left them with only six defenders. If the squad can stay healthy, and can maintain their current dominance, it will be an exciting spring for Beauts fans around the world.