Now that 2019 is upon us, it’s the final stretch of the 2018-19 regular season for both the CWHL and NWHL. While some have positioned themselves more favourably than others, there’s always room to improve for even the best teams. Here’s one glaring issue for every team to leave behind in 2018 and to resolve in the New Year.
Calgary Inferno: overcome head coach’s resignation
In a surprising turn of events, head coach Shannon Miller resigned on Dec. 6th. Despite a very strong record this season, the Inferno’s bench boss stepped down, leaving a vacant position and forcing assistant coaches Ryan Hilderman and Becky McGee to fill the void. This is an extremely talented team and their results haven’t been impacted yet, but we’ll see if Miller’s departure has any long-term implications in 2019.
Les Canadiennes de Montréal: also overcome head coach’s resignation
Dany Brunet stepped down as head coach of Les Canadiennes on Nov. 24th, which had an immediate impact on the team. They lost a pair of games against the Inferno, but rebounded with five consecutive victories, including a three-game sweep during their road trip in China. It’s difficult to find a specific area where the CWHL’s top two teams can improve, but mid-season coaching changes may have an effect at some point.
Markham Thunder: stay out of the penalty box
With a total of 160 penalty minutes, the Thunder are atop the league in an infamous category. Their tendency to take penalties quite frequently has likely contributed to the amount of shots on goal they’ve allowed, which is approximately 31 per game. If Markham wishes to compete with the Inferno or Les Canadiennes, they need reduce the amount of penalties taken and the number of shots against.
Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays: reduce shots against on Noora Raty
Goaltenders Raty and rookie Kimberly Newell have split most the time this season, but they have allowed considerably more shots against with Raty in goal compared to Newell. Raty faces an average of 29 shots per game, whereas Newell only sees about 14 shots per game. Raty’s 0.908 save percentage this season isn’t on par with her standards, but the team’s play in front of her could certainly be better in 2019.
Toronto Furies: an increase in secondary scoring
Aside from Natalie Spooner’s ten goals and 18 points, as well as Sarah Nurse’s nine goals and 17 points, the Furies aren’t generating enough offensively to be a top team in the CWHL. They still have a decent chance to qualify for the Clarkson Cup playoffs, but others will need to step up down the stretch. Rookie goalie Shea Tiley has a decent 0.911 save percentage, meaning it is clear that much of their problems are up front.
Worcester Blades: stay the course with their rebuilding process
The Blades are 0-17 on the season and almost certainly will finish in the league’s basement, but this was entirely intentional. As a rebuilding franchise with a number of rookies on their roster, Worcester was expecting a painful season in 2018-19. It would be great to see them become a bit more competitive and perhaps even win a game in 2019, but they’re looking at the bigger picture.
Boston Pride: slight improvement in goaltending
Boston’s starting goalie Katie Burt hasn’t performed poorly this season, but her 0.913 save percentage isn’t overly impressive and is quite average. The Pride are a dominant team across the board and their only glaring weakness is goaltending, which isn’t all that bad. For a team that is undoubtedly a favourite for the Isobel Cup, the idea of one poor performance in goal being their downfall during the playoffs is concerning.
Buffalo Beauts: find the back of the net more frequently
They’ve been excellent defensively, with goaltenders Shannon Szabados and Nicole Hensley performing very well, but the Beauts have struggled to score goals. Their 5-4 record is underwhelming for a team with high expectations this season, much of which is a result of an average offence. One of the ways they can increase their offensive output is on the power play, which has only converted on 11.1% of its opportunities.
Connecticut Whale: starting and finishing games
Although the Whale have outscored their opponents 6-3 in second periods, the team has been outplayed significantly in first and third periods. They trail by a total of 9-3 in first periods and 10-3 in third periods, indicating they have a difficult time starting and finishing games. If they can work on and improve their starts and finishes in 2019, the Whale could see an improvement by season’s end.
Metropolitan Riveters: work on special teams
As the defending Isobel Cup champions, it has been a major disappointment for the Riveters in 2018-19. Their 2-8 record indicates that they’ll likely be featured in the NWHL’s play-in game for the playoffs, which is the first time it will occur in the recently expanded league. The Riveters don’t look impressive anywhere statistically, but their power play converting at 5.4% and penalty kill success rate of 85.7% needs work.
Minnesota Whitecaps: increase offensive output
In their inaugural season, the Whitecaps opened 2018-19 with five straight wins and are currently 7-3, sitting atop the league standings. However, their +2 goal differential pales in comparison to the Pride and Beauts’. They’re averaging less than three goals per game and are only capitalizing on 5.4% of their power plays. If they hope to compete with Boston and Buffalo, they’ll need to score more frequently in 2019.