Another weekend of CWHL has shaken up the standings and left us wondering who the true powerhouse team is, if the CWHL even has one this year. Calgary swept Boston, but Brampton and Les Canadiennes split their series.
From a standings perspective, the Inferno are still at the top. Calgary has now stretched its lead to there points over Les Canadiennes, while the Furies -- who were off last weekend -- are six points out of first place. There's still plenty of time, though, for either Toronto or Les Canadiennes to catch Calgary. Brampton is 10 points out.
But from an on-ice perspective, Brampton's win over Les Canadiennes shows that the Thunder, who have struggled to win in the past, are still a good team. While Calgary has only one loss this year, it appears the CWHL is closer than last year in terms of having four solid teams that are close to each other.
News and Notes
This weekend's Les Canadiennes vs. Boston Blades games will feature former Boston University teammates (Tara Watchorn and Marie-Philip Poulin) taking the ice against each other. It's a special one because Saturday's match will be played at BU's Walter Brown Arena, which is where the Terriers play.
Caroline Ouellette is nearing 300 points in her CWHL career.
Calgary's Erica Kromm played in her 100th game on Saturday.
Boston scored two goals in a game for the third time this season.
Les Canadiennes' assistant coach Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux said the team may be fatigued lately due to travel, as well as intense and late practices, so some players received the day off on Tuesday.
Boston killed off eight penalties in nine chances against Calgary.
Les Canadiennes vs. Brampton Thunder
After a tough weekend, Les Canadiennes rebounded with a 4-3 win over Brampton. The teams exchanged goals in the second period to end the frame in a 2-2 tie. Jess Jones scored her second of the game to put Brampton up 3-2 in the third, though Les Canadiennes would tie it. Caroline Ouellette scored her second goal in the extra frame to give Les Canadiennes the win.
Liz Knox earned the start for Brampton and made 35 saves, while Charline Labonte stopped 19 shots. Ouellette and Jones each posted three points.
"We had to stop a lot of pucks and the [players] did that," Brampton head coach Tyler Fines said. "Erica [Howe] and [Liz Knox] and our penalty killers were amazing. They saved our butts.”
Sunday's affair was extremely similar. The teams each scored a goal in the second and third frame to force overtime. But in this game, it was Brampton's Jamie Lee Rattray who earned the game-winning goal.
“We lost a lot of 50-50 battles and just have to be a little tougher on the stick so we can create more opportunities," Fines said.
Courtney Birchard recorded three points for Brampton, which earned the win for goaltender Erica Howe. Labonte made 27 stops for Les Canadiennes.
“In both games we really had a slow start, which did not help," Les Canadiennes' assistant coach Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux said. "I don’t know what’s happening in the first period. We lack team cohesion, we lack execution, we’re a bit slower. ... Brampton is a very good team so the reality has changed for us and we have to accept it and work harder, because in the past we often had an easier way in season.
"Last year we only had two losses in a year; now we already have three and it’s half the year, so the reality has changed this year in the league. Toronto, Brampton, Calgary will be very strong, which is actually a really good thing; we’ll be able to face more adversity, which will make us stronger. Last year our lack of adversity really showed in the last game, so I think that’s a good thing."
Calgary Inferno vs. Boston Blades
Calgary's offense broke out against Boston. The Inferno posted 14 goals over the weekend, following a 5-1 win with a 9-2 victory. Meghan Grieves scored Boston's lone goal on Saturday, while Iya Gavrilova scored twice. Boston's Lauren Dahm faced 52 shots, stopping 47 of them. In net, Genevieve Lacasse made 10 stops against her old team.
"Our [players] did a good job transitioning to offense and created some pretty good, probably one of the best games we’ve had in terms of rush-generated offense," Blades head coach Brian McCloskey said. "I thought that was a plus [and] I also thought we did a good job making some improvements, especially shorthand."
Calgary captain Brianne Jenner scored the hat trick on Sunday, while Bailey Bram posted two goals and Rebecca Johnston added three points. Grieves scored her second goal in as many games, while Nicole Giannino added a tally for the Blades.
"Early in the first game of the weekend, I think we were extending our defense a little too far to the perimeter and fortunately for us Lauren made some great saves," McCloskey said. "But I thought as the weekend wore on, we did a pretty good job of understanding how to protect in from the dots in and not getting ourselves extended too extensively beyond the outside areas."
Jetta Rackleff and Dahm split the goaltending duties for Boston. Rackleff made 27 of 34 saves, while Dahm had 22 out of 24. Delayne Brian continued the Calgary rotation and stopped 16 shots.
"It’s good to lose. You learn more when you lose." Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux, Les Canadiennes
Three Up, Three Down
↑ Meghan Grieves: The rookie scored her first goal for Boston over the weekend. Actually, she scored her first two CWHL goals against Calgary and is third on Boston in scoring. And her first goal was definitely a doozy.
“Meghan in particular had a standout weekend," Blades coach Brian McCloskey said. "She had a lot of good scoring chances. Her, Kate Leary, Kristina Brown; that line we put together this weekend, they had some really good opportunities offensively."
After 2 periods on #CWHLLive: @InfernoCWHL 3 @BostonCWHL 1— CWHL (@TheCWHL) November 27, 2016
Boston goal by #17 Meghan Grieves (@grieves11) pic.twitter.com/cDXyl628K4
↑ Carly Hill and Lauriane Rougeau: After missing a few games with injuries, both Hill and Rougeau are back in the lineup.
"Carly Hill is coming back and she’s building her confidence back," Breton-Lebreux said.
↑ Brampton Thunder: It seems like Brampton struggled to win early on, which was surprising for a team that everyone thought could compete for a top spot. But the Thunder have still been good all season and have proved it, after earning wins over Calgary and Les Canadiennes in the last two weeks.
Brampton is still a little far behind in the standings -- losing the first four games of the season will do that to you -- but there's plenty of time for the Thunder to make up the difference.
“Chemistry kicked in," Fines said. "We started to score a few more goals. You have to score three goals or more to win in this league, and if you do that you give yourself a chance to win. Our offense came alive and we just started playing a little more structured hockey.”
↓ Boston on the rush: I really like Boston's breakout. I think the Blades showed that they've gotten better offensively with the chances they were able to create, especially on the odd-player rush. However, the Blades spend a lot of time chasing the puck, and that especially hurts in aspects like the breakouts. The Blades are usually too gassed to finish their breakouts ahead a player, or are too tired to make a quality scoring chance from that breakout.
"One of the things we’ve done in the past is you're not getting the quantity of transitional offense your opponent is, and then all of a sudden you get a chance and the way you go 3-on-2, 2-on-1 [and] we have a tendency to try and be too cute," McCloskey said. "We stress to the team over the weekend [that] when we get those chances, you’ve got to put the puck on net and force the other team to make a save [and] potentially clear a rebound."
The only way this gets better is if Boston stops chasing the puck more. But that's hard to do, since their defense still needs so much improvement. While the chances the Blades give up may have lessened, the amount of time they spend chasing the puck tires them out.
But their offense isn't what this blurb is about -- it's more about the defensive side of their transition game, another issue that occurs when Boston has the puck on the rush, but can't convert.
"We’ve gotten better, but I think it’s an area where we can continue to improve, where everybody realizes that we have to transition quickly to defense," McCloskey said. "And determining who’s got [which] individual assignments in terms of defensive play and picking up on a counterattack because Calgary, and we’ve got Montreal coming up this weekend, they’re both really good counterattacking teams. If you turn the puck over and you don’t transition quickly to defense, they’re going to really expose us."
↓ Les Canadiennes: One is a fluke, two is a trend, or however that saying goes. Les Canadiennes didn't play badly, but it's odd watching them lose twice in the past two weeks. That's very unlike them, especially for a team that deep. And as Breton-Lebreux said, they have more losses this year at this point than they had last year at this point.
“We’ll need to work on our PK and as well as just to get the scores...We need to get the scoring game, [the] finishing touch. It’s not bad in the O-zone, but we couldn’t finish.”
Speaking of penalty kills: of the six goals that Les Canadiennes surrendered over the weekend, all of them were power-play goals. Brampton scored on three in four chances on the power on Saturday and added three power play goals on seven chances on Sunday. In total, Les Canadiennes allowed six power play goals on 11 chances.
↓ Calgary's power play: As mentioned just above, the Blades killed off almost all their penalties...which means that Calgary scored just one goal in nine tries. The Inferno entered the weekend with the second-best power play unit, although Calgary was only 0.8 percent above Toronto and almost 11 percent below Les Canadiennes. On the road, however, Calgary has one of the league's worst power plays.
Coming up next
Boston Blades vs. Les Canadiennes: December 3 at 7:30 PM; December 4 at 3:30 PM (Eastern Time) at Walter Brown Arena and UMass Boston
Toronto Furies vs Brampton Thunder: December 3 at 6:30 PM; December 4 at 1:30 PM (Eastern Time) at Brampton Memorial Arena and East Bayfield Arena
(Photo credit: Brampton Thunder/Twitter)