RIVS TALK WITH FALK: THE NEED FOR A STRONG START ON SATURDAY
By Matthew Falkenbury
As the calendar turns to 2020, the Metropolitan Riveters are back home this weekend to take on the Minnesota Whitecaps at 7:30 p.m. EST on Saturday and 4:30 p.m. EST on Sunday. These games will mark the final two meetings of the 2019-20 NWHL season between the two franchises, and the first in New Jersey, with the season series tied 2-2.
With the Riveters coming off a huge two-game series sweep of the Buffalo Beauts on the road this past weekend, they are counting on a second-half surge, which includes 10 of the final 11 games coming on home ice, to help carry them towards an opportunity to host an Isobel Cup semi-final game come March.
The Whitecaps certainly present a challenge for the Rivs and will be coming into this weekend series well-rested. But the road has not been kind to Minnesota. Overall, the Whitecaps have three regulation losses on the road and survived a pair of very close games against the Whale in Connecticut as well.
Here are my three keys to the matchups this weekend.
1. Speed Kills
In the previous four matchups, the Whitecaps have done a great job using their speed and pressure game to force the Riveters into numerous defensive mistakes that have turned into odd-skater rushes, breakaways or penalties taken.
Even in the two games the Riveters won, they had to be bailed out on numerous occasions by goaltender Sam Walther to keep the leads they had earned. The Whitecaps would love nothing more than to continue this style and use their counterattack to burn the Rivs when they can.
Being calm, composed and smart with the puck and not letting the ice open up will be a major factor if the Rivs want to build on their winning streak.
2. Fast Starts
Chasing a game and trying to come back from a deficit is something that the Riveters have struggled to do in the first 13 games of the season. It goes without saying that getting an early lead will help any team win a hockey game. Case in point, the Riveters have never trailed in their six wins this season.
I believe the Rivs need to make sure they dictate the pace of play and control the emotions of the game from the opening face-off. A quick start this weekend will have them feeling confident, get the crowd fired up and allow them to relax and play the game they want to play.
3. Finish Strong
One thing the Riveters must do though when getting off to a good start, is to have a killer instinct.
The Beauts very nearly completed one of the most thrilling comebacks in NWHL history in the Labatt Blue NWHL Buffalo Believes Classic by coming back from a 4-1 deficit in the third period. However, the Rivs were able to wrestle back control of the game despite that massive change of momentum. That showed me something.
In the two wins for the Rivs this season over the Whitecaps, they saw Minnesota score late game-tying goals to force overtime and those OTL points certainly loom large right now. This weekend, they can’t afford to let Minnesota do that again. If they find themselves with a third-period lead this weekend, they’ve got to make sure they finish the job in regulation. Every point counts.
Photo Credit: Tom Morris