The PWHL’s first month began with New York shutting out Toronto on New Year’s Day, a milestone that reached nearly three million people.
It ended with Minnesota’s Abby Boreen scoring in overtime to secure her team the win, and a tie atop the standings with Montreal.
Most of the games in between have been much like the latter. More than half of the PWHL’s first 22 games have been decided by just one goal, with overtime or a shootout needed in eight. It’s a sign of parity across the league.
Montreal head coach Kori Cheverie might have put it best after a 2-1 win over Minnesota last week.
“Every night as of late feels like a game seven and it’s hard to get three points in this league,” she said.
With only two points separating the last four teams in the standings, the extra point awarded for a regulation win will be crucial for teams going forward.
After a few days off, 24 players will be in Toronto on Thursday to play in the PWHL 3-on-3 showcase as part of the NHL’s All-Star Weekend celebrations.
It’s meant to be fun, but don’t expect to see PWHL players treating it as a vacation. It’s a chance to introduce women’s hockey to people who’ve never watched them play, and that’s something they don’t take lightly.
“We can’t take it off, because at the end of the day, people will always have the opinion that if we don’t give our best, women’s hockey isn’t good,” Montreal captain Marie-Philip Poulin told the Canadian Press.
Then, the league will hit pause from Feb. 5 until 14 for international play, including the last three stops this season in the Rivalry Series.
But before that, there are three games on the schedule this weekend.
That includes Toronto hosting Minnesota at 12 p.m. ET on Saturday, which you can watch on CBC Gem, cbcsports.cathe CBC Sports app for iOS and Android devices, and CBC TV.
With all but two teams already at the one-third mark of their season, here’s a look at what we’ve learned about each team, and what to watch going forward:
Minnesota dealt with an unexpected coaching change just before the season began. The team came out flying anyway and has only lost once in regulation, allowing fewer than two goals per game along the way.
The highlight of the season has to be winning in front of more than 13,000 fans at the Xcel Energy Center, which set a world record for attendance at a women’s professional hockey game.
Going forward, Minnesota needs to work on special teams. The team has the worst penalty-kill percentage in the league and has only scored once in 21 opportunities on the power play.
Standout performer: Nicole Hensley has been a rock in net for Minnesota, while forward Kelly Pannek has been solid at both ends of the ice.
But Minnesota’s early season MVPs have been rookies Taylor Heise and Grace Zumwinkle. Combined, they’ve scored almost half of Minnesota’s goals this season.
Like Minnesota, Montreal has only lost once in regulation. The team has been fun to watch, whether it’s Laura Stacey’s blazing speed or Poulin’s puck-on-a-string ability.
Also similar to Minnesota, the team has a power play that hasn’t quite clicked yet, though it’s hard to believe they won’t break through with the personnel they have.
WATCH | Maureen Murphy scores game-winning goal to propel Montreal over Ottawa:
Maureen Murphy’s first PWHL goal lifts Montreal to a 2-1 overtime victory over Ottawa in front of a record-breaking crowd for a professional women’s hockey game in Canada with 8,646 in attendance.
Montreal is also allowing a lot of shots on net — 130 in the last three games alone. It doesn’t help that the team has taken more penalties than any other in the league.
The latter might get sorted as players get the hang of where the line is with the PWHL’s officiating. But it’s something to watch on one of the league’s best teams so far.
Standout performer: The shot volume has kept goaltenders Ann-Renée Desbiens and Elaine Chuli busy, and it’s felt like they’ve kept the team in the game at times.
But the standout has been the line of Poulin, Murphy and Tereza Vanišová, who each have seven points. Poulin is the best player in the world, and with her team trailing Toronto last month, it felt like she willed them to overtime with her game-tying goal. They call her Captain Clutch for a reason.
Vanišová and Murphy have come up clutch, too. They each have a game-winning goal in the last two games.
Boston has played two fewer games than the teams ahead of them in the standings, so the five-point gap might be a bit misleading.
After a loss in their home opener, and a lengthy wait to play a second game, Boston seems to be on to something. They went into this week’s break on a two-game win streak, powered by PWHL first star of the week, Alina Müller, who has eight points in her last four games.
Behind Müller, Loren Gabel and Jamie Lee Rattray each have five points in six games, while captain Hilary Knight finally got her first goal, an overtime game-winner, last weekend.
It wasn’t that Knight wasn’t getting opportunities. She’s been shooting at a four per cent rate, something that seems unlikely to continue for one of the best shooters. With offence from Knight unlocked, Boston is a team to watch.
Standout performer: Müller is an early MVP candidate who’s been consistently driving her team’s play with her hockey IQ around the net. Boston has scored 16 times so far this season. Two of those goals have come from the Swiss superstar, and she’s assisted on seven others.
Like Boston, Ottawa has played only six games, so there’s a smaller sample size.
The team’s top scorer is Lexie Adzija, who’s excelled in the tough area in front of the net. Her former Quinnipiac University teammate Zoe Boyd has also shined on a defensive pairing with Ashton Bell, with both showing offensive ability.
The team would probably like to see a bit more scoring from players like Emily Clark and Mikyla Grant-Mentis, who have one goal between them.
Some good news for Ottawa: they got a great week from captain Brianne Jenner, who was named the PWHL’s second star. Her biggest moment? Probably setting up Hayley Scamurra for a game-tying goal against Boston, salvaging a point in the second night of a back-to-back.
Standout performer: Goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer has played in every one of Ottawa’s six games, after backup Sandra Abstreiter left last week’s game against Boston with an injury. Maschmeyer has saved two key penalty shots in separate games. She even has an assist, spotting a poorly-timed Toronto line change and finding Natalie Snodgrass at the other end of the ice. She’s been Ottawa’s MVP.
After a strong start on New Year’s Day, New York has faltered, losing three of its last four games.
Part of the problem is that New York has only scored once in the last two games, with Chloe Aurard and Élizabeth Giguère among players still looking for their first goals.
WATCH | New York’s Abby Roque mic’d up during warmup:
Natalie Spooner scores twice as PWHL Toronto claims their franchise’s first win at home by defeating New York 2-0.
The team’s goaltending has been a bright spot, as have Alex Carpenter and Jessie Eldridge, who’ve been generating a lot of chances. Maybe giving them more time apart could help generate more offence elsewhere in the lineup.
Standout performer: Over five games, Corinne Schroeder has kept New York in games, all while facing more shots than any other goaltender except Desbiens. Against Toronto last week, she saved 28 of the 30 shots that came her way, but her team still lost 2-0. She’s been, in the words of teammate Jade Downie-Landry, a “brick wall.”
Toronto’s shootout win over Montreal might have been a momentum-shifting moment for a team that has been outscored and outmatched at times this season.
A few days later, Toronto shut out a New York team that’s gone cold, earning Kristen Campbell her first shutout and a much-needed boost of confidence.
WATCH | Spooner scores pair in Toronto’s 1st home win:
Go behind the scenes of PWHL New York vs. PWHL Toronto, as CBC Sports presents Mic’d Up with American forward Abby Roque.
Captain Blayre Turnbull and Sarah Nurse have combined for only one goal so far this season, while Campbell had allowed 18 goals over six games before her shutout.
The expected return of forward Victoria Bach, a reserve forward while completing teacher’s college, this month might be another boost for Toronto.
Standout performer: Natalie Spooner has been classic Natalie Spooner, going hard to the net and being hard to play against. That’s translated to five goals in eight games. Not only is she one of only two players on Toronto to score more than once this season, but she’s also been the only Toronto player to score on the power play.
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