RIVS TALK WITH FALK: ONE LAST SCRAP WITH THE PRIDE
By Matt Falkenbury
The Metropolitan Riveters have reached ‘The Final Boss’ level and only have one life left. How will they handle it?
That’s how things feel as the Rivs try to crack the code that is the Boston Pride in their final meeting of the 2019-20 regular season. Coming into the game with an 0-6 mark against the Pride, the Riveters will look to get over .500 for the first time this season and serve notice that they can rise up and beat the best team in the League before the Isobel Cup Playoffs begin.
This is also the final regular season game for Boston this season. Just like the Riveters, they want to make a statement on Sunday and finish their season with a big win. Boston's bid to go undefeated this year may be over, but they want to enter the playoffs with the right momentum.
Here are my three keys to the matchups this weekend as the Riveters face-off with the Pride on Sunday (4:30 p.m. ET). Fans can grab tickets to the game at riveters.nwhl.zone/tickets and can watch all the action streaming live and free on the NWHL on Twitch.
1. Long Stick of the Law
Ever since Ashley Johnston returned from retirement, the Riveters have been a much better team. They are 5-1-2, that’s points in seven of the eight games she has played in, and have allowed just a hair under three goals per game in that stretch (23 goals against).
In the games she did not play in, including all six against Boston, the Riveters have allowed 58 goals in 13 games (just a shade under 4.5 goals per game) and are 4-8-1. That includes allowing 34 goals in six games against the Pride, with Boston never scoring less than five in a game vs. the Rivs this season.
With the veteran blueliner in the lineup, the depth of the defense and its chemistry are much improved. Johnston's prowess in the defensive zone stands in stark contrast to the puck-chasing that we saw from the Riveters defense in the early stages of the season. On Sunday, we'll see if Stretch will be able to provide that calming influence on the Rivs' blue line against the relentlessly dangerous Pride offense.
2. Lesson Plan
Jillian Dempsey is a teacher for a living, but when she is on the ice, she happens to love giving the Riveters a lesson or two.
The all-time leader in points and goals in NWHL history has put up some awesome numbers against the Rivs this season, with six goals and eight assists for 14 points in the six matchups. She also enters the weekend riding a 10-game scoring streak. All season long, Dempsey has been making those key plays that lead to her team winning hockey games.
Her line with McKenna Brand and Christina Putigna has been hard for every team to stop this season and if you want to have any hope of trying to slow down this juggernaut, it would start by keeping them in check as much as possible.
Good luck …
3. Secondary Scoring
I could go chapter and verse on what the Riveters' dynamic duo of Madison Packer and Kate Leary have done this season. They've had three different centers complete their line this season and nothing appreciably changed about their performance. But it’s the other two lines that must continue to step up if this team wants to finish the season strong and make a run at the postseason.
Kendall Cornine has seen her scoring touch drop off a bit, only three assists and no goals in the past six games. A reunion with Packer and Leary could spark her production, but the Riveters' are also counting on her to make a difference on the power play. Mallory Rushton got her first goal of the season against Buffalo last Sunday and Tatiana Shatalova has scored just one goal since the start of 2020.
That line has the talent to make a difference, but it has to show more consistently. If they can generate more chances and start scoring goals, it will take the pressure off the top line. More importantly, it will force teams to worry about more than just 14 and 28.
Photo Credit: Michelle Jay, Kate Frese