The first month of the PWHL began with New York eliminating 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 the victory for her team and a tie atop the standings with Montreal.
Most mid-tier games are a lot like these. More than half of the PWHL’s first 22 games were decided by a single goal, with overtime or shootouts in eight cases. It’s a sign of parity league-wide.
Montreal head coach Kori Cheverie could have said it best after a 2-1 win over Minnesota last week.
“Every night it’s like game seven and it’s hard to get three points in this league,” she said.
With only two points separating the bottom four teams in the standings, the extra point awarded for a regulation victory will be crucial for the teams going forward.
After a few days off, 24 players will be in Toronto on Thursday to play in the PWHL’s 3-on-3 showcase as part of the NHL’s All-Star Weekend celebrations.
It’s supposed to be fun, but don’t expect PWHL players to treat it as a vacation. It’s an opportunity to introduce women’s hockey to people who have never seen them play, and it’s something they don’t take lightly.
“We can’t take it away, because at the end of the day, people will always have the opinion that if we don’t give the best of ourselves, women’s hockey is not good,” said the Montreal captain Marie-Philip Poulin. told the Canadian Press.
Then the league will take a break from February 5 to 14 for international matches, including the final three stages this season in the Rivalry Series.
But before that, three matches are on the program this weekend.
With all but two teams already a third of the way through their season, here’s a look at what we’ve learned about each team and what to watch for going forward:
Minnesota got busy an unexpected change of coach just before the start of the season. The team still came out strong and only lost once in regulation, allowing less than two goals per game along the way.
The highlight of the season has to be the victory in front of more than 13,000 spectators at the Xcel Energy Center, which set a world attendance record for a professional women’s hockey game.
Moving forward, Minnesota will need to work on special teams. The team has the worst penalty kill percentage in the league and has only scored once in 21 power play opportunities.
Notable artist: Nicole Hensley was a gem in net for Minnesota, while forward Kelly Pannek was solid at both ends of the ice.
But Minnesota’s early season MVPs have been rookies Taylor Heise and Grace Zumwinkle. Together, they have scored nearly half of Minnesota’s goals this season.
Just like Minnesota, Montreal has only lost once in regulation time. The team has been fun to watch, whether it’s Laura Stacey’s blazing speed or Poulin’s ability to play with the puck.
Also similar to Minnesota, the team has a power play that hasn’t really worked yet, although it’s hard to believe they won’t be successful with the personnel they have.
WATCH | Maureen Murphy scores the winning goal to power Montreal against Ottawa:
Montreal also allows a lot of shots on goal – 130 in the last three games alone. It doesn’t help that the team has taken more penalties than any other team in the league.
That last point could be ironed out as players understand where the finish line is with PWHL officials. But it’s something to watch so far on one of the best teams in the league.
Notable artist: The volume of shots kept goalies Ann-Renée Desbiens and Elaine Chuli busy, and it seemed like they kept the team in the game at times.
But what stood out was the trio of Poulin, Murphy and Tereza Vanišová, who each totaled seven points. Poulin is the best player in the world, and with her team trailing Toronto last month, it felt like she was forcing them into overtime with her tying goal. They call him Captain Clutch for a reason.
Vanišová and Murphy also took over. They each scored a 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 long wait to play a second game, Boston appears to be on the right track. They entered this week’s break on a two-game winning 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 scored her first goal, an overtime winner, last weekend.
It wasn’t that Knight didn’t have opportunities. She’s shooting at a four percent rate, which seems unlikely to continue for one of the best shooters. With Knight’s offense unlocked, Boston is a team to watch.
Outstanding artist: Müller is an early MVP candidate who has consistently driven her team’s play with her hockey IQ around the net. Boston has scored 16 times so far this season. Two of those goals came from the Swiss superstar, and she assisted seven others.
Like Boston, Ottawa has only played six games, so there is a smaller sample size.
The team’s top scorer is Lexie Adzija, who excelled in the difficult area in front of the net. Her former Quinnipiac University teammate, Zoe Boyd, also shined in a defensive duo with Ashton Bell, with both showing offensive abilities.
The team would probably like to see a little more scoring from players like Emily Clark and Mikyla Grant-Mentis, who have a goal between them.
Some good news for Ottawa: They had a great week from captain Brianne Jenner, who was named PWHL second star. His greatest moment? Probably setting up Hayley Scamurra for a game-tying goal against Boston, salvaging a point on the second night of a row.
Outstanding artist: Goalkeeper Emerance Maschmeyer played in each of Ottawa’s six games, after backup Sandra Abstreiter left last week’s game against Boston due to injury. Maschmeyer stopped two key penalty shots in separate games. She even had an assist, spotting a poorly timed line change in Toronto and finding Natalie Snodgrass at the other end of the ice. She was Ottawa’s MVP.
After a strong start on New Year’s Day, New York faltered, losing three of its last four games.
Part of the problem is that New York has only scored one goal in the last two games, with Chloé Aurard and Élizabeth Giguère among the players still looking for their first goal.
WATCH | Abby Roque from New York took the mic during warm-ups:
The team’s goalkeepers were a bright spot, as were Alex Carpenter and Jessie Eldridge, who generated plenty of chances. Perhaps giving them more time apart could help generate more offense elsewhere in the lineup.
Notable artist: In five games, Corinne Schroeder has kept New York in games, while facing more shots than any other goalie except Desbiens. Against Toronto last week, she stopped 28 of the 30 shots that came her way, but her team still lost 2-0. She was, in the words of teammate Jade Downie-Landrya “brick wall”.
Toronto’s shootout victory over Montreal could have been a defining moment for a team that has been outplayed and outplayed at times this season.
A few days later, Toronto blanked a flagging New York team, earning Kristen Campbell her first shutout and a much-needed confidence boost.
WATCH | Spooner scores a pair in Toronto’s first home win:
Captain Blayre Turnbull and Sarah Nurse have scored just one goal so far this season, while Campbell had allowed 18 goals in six games before her shutout.
The expected return of forward Victoria Bach, a reserve forward who is finishing her teaching studies, this month could be another boost for Toronto.
Notable artist: Natalie Spooner was classic Natalie Spooner, going hard to the net and difficult to play against. That translates to five goals in eight games. Not only is she one of only two Toronto players to score more than once this season, but she is also the only Toronto player to score on the power play.