The Cup. End game. Make no mistake every game these ladies suit up they head into battle. They throw themselves in front of rubber projectiles that can reach speeds of 100 km an hour. They take bone rattling hits. They play through concussions, broken ribs, and sprains, strains and automobiles. These ladies regularly take ice baths. These incredible athletes not only have to train and commit to a professional calibre, but also maintain full time jobs on top of that as they are not paid to play. And all for what? The Clarkson Cup. One of the most prestigious awards in professional women’s hockey. And being in the position to win it makes all of those 6 a.m. practices worth it.
The Calgary Inferno swept their series with the Brampton Thunder. Montreal Les Canadiennes also cut the Toronto Furies season short with a two game sweep. Les Canadiennes and the Inferno both proceed to the March 13th Final in Ottawa. But who will come out on top? Who will hoist the Cup?
Power Play Showdown
Les Canadiennes finished slightly ahead of the Inferno in regular season play, and defeated the Inferno four out of six regular season contests. But we all know that regular season doesn’t count for squat in playoffs. Both teams have largely different playing styles. Les Canadiennes play a big game, by which I mean they never play scared. Even on the penalty kill they play aggressive. They force turnovers, they force they short-handed goals, and they force a lot of unwanted grey hairs on the opposing team’s coaching staff. The Inferno’s power play has proven to be ineffective against the impenetrable Montreal PK.
Les Canadiennes use a 1-3 PK forecheck, and the three man wall on the blue line has proven to be a real challenge for the Inferno. The Inferno generally attempt to carry the puck into the offensive zone. On entry they are immediately trapped by a Montreal winger coming in from up high and a Montreal defender flying in from the side. This doesn’t leave the Inferno with many options and also makes it incredibly difficult to set up PP formations.
Inferno need to change their zone entries up if they want to seriously contend for the Cup, especially speaking to PP. Option 1: DUMP. THE. PUCK. Put it past the three man wall, chase it down, and set up in the corner. The three man wall could try to get in front and hold them up, but let em, and let the Stripes whistle it down for interference. Option 2: Rim it hard around the boards, again past the three man wall, and let the far side winger pick it up and drive it south. Inferno has the wheels to make this work. Stupid. Simple.
Les Canadiennes PP is almost as strong as their PK. Les Canadiennes put four goals away on 20 PP opportunities over the course of their six contests with the Inferno. The February 13th matchup between Inferno and Les Canadiennes showcases the sheer force of the Les Canadiennes PP. The one advantaged goal they scored was because they capitalized on an Inferno error. The puck starts behind the net with neither team in full possession. Instead of sending one Inferno player down into the melee behind the net, both Inferno defensemen Aina Takeuchi and Inferno forward Blayre Turnball get suckered in. This leaves the front of house relatively unprotected with only Inferno’s Mikkelson left to keep the three Les Canadiennes players at bay. The puck gets tossed out front to Les Canadiennes’ Noemie Marin who nets it past Inferno goaltender Delayne Brian. Exploiting those mistakes is what makes Les Canadiennes such a competitive club.
Penalty Kill Showdown
Montreal Les Canadiennes have a whopping 96 percentile on the penalty kill in the six regular season games against Inferno. Out of 28 shorthanded situations the Inferno was only able to score once. Yikes. The Calgary Inferno have an 80 percentile on the penalty kill in their 6 meetings with Les Canadiennes. Not bad considering that the average NHL PK percentage is between 80-85%. But it still pales in comparison to the Les Canadiennes 96%.
The Les Canadiennes do have some subtle PP weaknesses though. In the February 13th game the Inferno managed to score an unprecedented shorthanded goal on Montreal Les Canadiennes. The weakest point in the Les Canadiennes PP? Their PP breakout. If the Inferno want to shut down Les Canadiennes PP scoring opportunities they NEED to target their breakout. The Inferno use an aggressive 1-1-2 penalty kill here with Inferno forward Brianne Jenner pressuring hard and filling lanes causing a turnover that Inferno forward Rebecca Johnston picks up. Johnston takes it in and walks around net minder Delayne Brian for a very rare shorthanded goal on Les Canadiennes. An aggressive Inferno PK not only can kill off much needed seconds safely in Les Canadiennes end, but also can create scoring opportunities.
Montreal Les Canadiennes penalty kill is the best in the league. Period.
The Cup Consensus
I will never rule a team out. Especially with the teams in question being the Inferno and Les Canadiennes. Les Canadiennes have the upper hand on the PK and seemingly on the PP as well. If the Inferno simplify their game a bit though and find a little bit extra mustard this go around it will certainly make for an interesting night. A hockey night. But even better than that a hockey night in Canada. #GrowtheGame