RIVS TALK WITH FALK: SATURDAY'S FIGHT FOR .500
By Matt Falkenbury
It’s so close and yet, so far for the Riveters as they look to reach the .500 mark for the first time since the Isobel Cup championship season of 2017-18. This Saturday, at ProSkate Arena, the Rivs will have the chance to do just that.
With the first two-thirds of the season coming to an end and a schedule that was truly unrelenting throughout it all, this team finds itself one win away from an 8-8 record. More importantly, they have their eyes set on a final eight-game stretch to secure second place in the standings and earn home-ice advantage in the first round of the 2020 Isobel Cup Playoffs.
Over the past few weeks, the Riveters have emerged as the most compelling team in the league. The defense – once a weakness – continues to get better with basically every shift. The top line, featuring the duo of 2020 NWHL All-Stars Madison Packer and Kate Leary, is one of the best in the NWHL. And, in net, Sam Walther has erased all of the big questions that followed her into the season by proving herself a capable and talented starting goaltender.
Sitting here today, there is no doubt in my mind that you have to be excited about where this team is heading as a Riveters fan. Here are my three keys to the matchups this weekend.
The Riveters are facing a Whale team that has a veteran defensive core that won’t be shocked by anything the opposition throws their way.
What the Riveters can do is put the pressure on from the moment the puck drops. Being relentless on the forecheck can lead to turnovers, penalties drawn and scoring chances.
The Whale have the worst penalty kill in the NWHL at 70.6 percent. If you can use the forecheck to force them into mistakes like taking a penalty, then the Rivs’ power play can try to take advantage.
2. Special Teams
I already mentioned the poor penalty kill for the Whale, and it doesn’t get much better when they are on the power play, which is also last in the NWHL at a 9.6 percent success rate.
The Riveters, with the second-best penalty kill In the League at 81.1 percent, but the second-worst power play at 17.6 percent, have the advantage in both categories and the power play has definitely been trending in the right direction.
The team that wins the special teams battle will probably win on Saturday. The Whale have actually scored twice on the power play and once short-handed against the Riveters this season in two games. The Riveters will need to do better than that if they want to get to a .500 record.
Head Coach Ivo Mocek has made It clear that he believes in his lineup from top to bottom. During the weekend series vs. Minnesota, the Riveters were not afraid to put their third line, extra forward or third-pair defenders on the ice late in games.
It is my belief the confidence this team is playing with comes from, in part, a complete belief in what the coach is telling them. With Ashley Johnston and Kelly Nash recently returning to the team, the Riveters have two more key veterans in the mix. Mocek’s Riveters have never looked better.
Tickets for Saturday's game, which begins at 6:30 p.m at ProSkate Arena., are available at riveters.nwhl.zone/tickets and all Riveters games can be watched streaming live and free on the NWHL on Twitch.
Photo Credit: Schuyler Meyer