Northwestern currently sits at the bottom of the Big Ten standings, but the team is still focused on its ultimate goal — competing in the Big Ten Tournament.
The Wildcats have the worst overall win percentage in the conference with zero conference victories. Coach Michael Moynihan stressed that the team needs two wins in the upcoming home games against No. 19 Illinois and No. 13 Wisconsin.
“We definitely need to pick up a win, for the standings and for our confidence,” Moynihan said after last Sunday’s game against Ohio State.
The Cats will have their hands full. Illinois currently sits fourth in the Big Ten with four conference wins. The Illini have had the Cats’ number in the past, leading the all time series at 11-4-3. They’ve also won three of the last four and two straight in Evanston.
Illinois boasts a strong defense, posting six shutouts in 12 games played. They also strive off fast starts, going 9-1 when scoring the first goal. It will be important for the Cats to strike first and put pressure on the Illini to score.
After last weekend’s losses, Moynihan stressed that the team was playing well offensively, sporting an effective, well-balanced attack. They just weren’t turning those chances into goals.
This will be even more important against Illinois, which has been tough to even shoot on, let alone score. From August 22 to Sept. 26, the Illini held eight consecutive opponents to single digit shots.
The game is setting up to be a defensive battle, as Cats freshman goalkeeper Lauren Clem has excelled this season by making 41 saves.
With NU sticking to its lofty expectations, Sunday’s match is the first step toward a strong finish and playoff berth.
Opposing players to watch
The senior forward from Glenview, Illinois has scored in five consecutive games, with 10 total in that span. This incredible streak has pushed her to second in the nation in goals scored. If the Cats want to pull out the upset, they’ll have to know where Flaws is at all times.
Although the junior sometimes plays as a backup, she has scored 1 game-winning goal for the Illini this year. If the score is tight late in the game, the Cats will have to make sure they have Feher tracked down.
The sophomore goalie has been the primary netminder for the Illini, allowing only 8 goals in 945 minutes played. However, she hasn’t faced too much pressure shot-wise, so it will be interesting to see her against an NU team that has generated a lot of chances but hasn’t converted consistently as of late.
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