It’s only halfway through February, but 2018 has been a good year for the Buffalo Beauts. Just before the year turned new again the team got perhaps the best possible news, when it announced that Pegula Sports and Entertainment had struck a deal with the NWHL and become the first private owners in North American professional women’s hockey.
Since the Beauts found an owner, the team has yet to lose a game. The six-game winning streak was extended on February 3, when Buffalo finally defeated the Metropolitan Riveters to close out the regular season home schedule and lock down the first home playoff game in team history.
The story of the season is highlighted by recent success, but things haven’t necessarily gone as planned all year. On December 11, 716 Sports Podcast published a piece outlining some of the weaknesses that helped explain a string of defeats the team had suffered.
Since then, the Beauts have certainly righted the ship in many ways. Though things are frequently still touch-and-go in the third period, overall game performance has improved immensely; especially in shot differential.
Goaltender and All-Star captain Amanda Leveille had been facing 34 shots per game, while the NWHL average shots against was under 30. Leveille still has the most minutes, shots against, and saves, but her shots per game has seen a small drop. After 12 games played, the Beauts have improved slightly; Leveille is seeing just over 31 shots per game. The league as a whole, though has dropped slightly and is now under 29 shots against per game.
The gap between the two has diminished, though, and that makes a difference. It’s not the biggest of margins, but the improvements overall are clearly important.
What’s perhaps most incredible is that the team has improved by over four shots per game; where once the shot differential was approaching six, it is now just minus-1.6. If this trend continues, Buffalo will end the season with a positive shot differential for the first time in its three seasons.
Secondary scoring has also helped to drive Buffalo’s momentum. Five of Buffalo’s starting six defenders have contributed primary points. Forwards who would be considered depth players like Kristin Lewicki and Kaylyn Schroka both have contributed five or more primary points. Kourtney Kunichika, who anchors the Beauts’ most productive line, is the only player who isn’t a Riveter to have 10 or more primary points.
A combined improvement in goaltending, shots, and production, have been contributing factors to Buffalo’s success in the last six games, and the difference between that set and the first six shows in the standings. By December 10, the team had fallen to third place and was desperate for a positive. Since then, the team has been undefeated and shown marked development in many ways.
Of course, this is familiar territory for Buffalo. The underdog in the last two championships, the Beauts’ storied championship run last year is a wonderful blueprint for success again this season. Hopefully it doesn’t take 60 saves from Leveille to make it happen.