Carpenter’s class makes the difference

21 January 2021 , ,

KRS Vanke Rays 1 SKIF Nizhny Novgorod 0 OT

A goalless 60 minutes of hockey is a rare thing, but it happened today when the Vanke Rays took on SKIF in the Women’s Hockey League. Despite having the better of the play, the Lady Dragons could not find a way past Valeriya Merkusheva in the SKIF net until overtime.

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However, when you have the best forward in the league – as voted by last season’s head coaches – that does make a difference. And Alex Carpenter showed exactly why she is so highly regarded in this competition when she settled matters all by herself in overtime. It started with a face-off. Alex won it, but playing 3-on-3, had to chase the puck to the boards herself. After retaining possession, Carpenter beat one opponent and bore down on the net, going for an early wrist shot that flashed past Merkusheva and flew into the roof of the net. For our leading scorer, that’s now 15 goals and 29 points in 16 highly productive games. For our team, it’s five successive victories and up to second in the WHL table with three games in hand on the leader.

It was all a bit different from yesterday’s meeting with the same opposition. On that occasion, two first period goals laid the foundations for a 4-2 victory that was rarely in doubt. Today, the prize was a big one: victory would guarantee second place and, before the day’s action started, there was even a possibility we could finish the day in top spot. Agidel’s win at Dynamo Neva in Thursday’s early game put paid to that prospect but Brian Idalski’s team still had every hope of rising up the rankings.

However, there were also lessons to take from our previous back-to-back games against this opponent in Nizhny Novgorod. Back in October, after winning our first game, the Lady Dragons lost out in a goaltending duel in the second meeting. Merkusheva stood on her head in that game to frustrate the KRS offense, and a solitary goal from Ekaterina Likhachyova midway through the third period proved decisive.

Today’s game soon began to echo that one. For 40 minutes, the teams were deadlocked. Both had chances, but the two goalies were impressive. In the first period, unusually, the Vanke Rays were outshot by the opposition: after SKIF killed the penalty it received in the first minute, the visitor more than matched us and led the shot count 10-7 at the intermission.

However, those stats turned around completely in the second period, with the Rays doing everything but score. SKIF was unable to muster a single shot at Kimberly Newell in the period – although Viktoria Kulishova missed a great chance on the power play, fanning her shot off Ekaterina Ananina’s feed – and the Lady Dragons steadily turned up the heat on the visitor. Were it not for Merkusheva, who continues to impress in her games against us, this game would surely have been settled in the middle session. Instead, though, even when the 21-year-old goalie was under pressure – witness the Rachel Llanes shot in the last minute of the frame that almost got away from her – she was able to recover and protect her net.

The pattern continued in the third, with KRS making the running but struggling to create the chances that could settle the game. And the events of the final couple of minutes summed up the day’s frustrations. With SKIF limited to rare counter attacks, a power play offered a great chance to get the job done in overtime. However, that defense remained resolute and our enthusiasm to get on the ice and finish the game resulted in a too many players call against the Rays. Power play neutralized, the game drifted into overtime before Carpenter delivered the winning goal.

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