An expected top-two team is exactly there after the first four games of the PWHL season, as Montréal ranks second in league standings. The team is perfectly .500, and has been playing solid hockey from the jump, even with some somewhat surprising moments from their first set of games.
Let’s take a look at the first four matchups in franchise history, and what to expect from the next four as we hit the halfway mark of the first month of the PWHL.
1-1-1-1 (6 points)
Montréal is second in the league standings, and have flipped back and forth in the win/loss column since the start of the season. They’re also third in points percentage, with Ottawa edging them slightly in two fewer games played.
Goals and Assists information found here.
Game One: Tues, Jan. 2 — 3-2 OT Win at Ottawa
Claire Dalton scored the franchise’s first goal to tie the game. Jillian Dempsey and Kennedy Marchement had the assists.
Laura Stacey found her first goal of the PWHL, assisted by Tereza Vanišová and Marie-Philip Poulin.
Ann-Sophie Bettez scored the overtime winner. Kati Tabin and Kristin O'Neill had the assists.
Game Two: Sat, Jan 6 — 3-0 Loss at Minnesota
Montréal scored no goals.
Game Three: Weds, Jan 10 — 5-2 Win at New York
Marie-Philip Poulin found the back of the net for her first PWHL goal, with Erin Ambrose assisting to pick up her first point of the season.
Catherine Dubois hit the score sheet for the team's second goal of the game. Maureen Murphy and Vanišová were credited with the assist.
Marchement kept the Montréal goal train rolling with assist from Gabrielle David and Sarah Lefort.
After not scoring a goal in the first two games, Poulin made up for it by scoring two more this game for a hat trick (the second in PWHL history). Her second goal was assisted by Murphy, and her third was an empty net goal.
Game Four: Sat. Jan 13 — 3-2 OT Loss vs Boston
Ambrose scored the first of the game for Montréal with an assist from Bettez and Murphy.
Not even a minute later, Stacey scored with Vanišová and O'Neill getting the assists.
Special Teams flip-flop
With one of the most dynamic, talented players of all time, you would think Montréal’s power play would be unstoppable. And that’s before looking at the depth of scoring across the roster.
This team was built to score goals, but to start the season the power play has been, for lack of a better description, coming up short in its productivity.
Catherine Dubois has the lone advantage goal for Montréal, which occurred in their third game of the season against New York. The team has had 12 attempts on the power play so far, tied for most opportunities in the league. An 8.3% conversion rate is second worst in the PWHL, although it’s still far better than Minnesota’s 0.0% on eight attempts.
On the flip side, with a defense that some were unsure about heading into the season, the Montréal penalty kill has been fairly dominant. The team is third best in the league with an 88.2% kill rate when down a skater. The two squads in front of them — Ottawa and Boston — are the two least penalized teams, with only four calls each against them.
Montréal has taken 17 penalties in comparison, for an average of 4.25 penalties per game.
They’re the most penalized team in the league so far, which is never a great statistic to be leading in. However, with only two power play goals against, (scored by the best power play teams in the league no less), it’s a pretty decent position to be in as the season continues. Not to mention Ottawa and Boston have only played two games a piece to Montréal’s four.
Of course there’s room for improvement, mainly by heading to the box a few less times per game perhaps, but it’s still a decent showing so far from a team with defensive question marks in pre-season.
Power play and penalty kill statistics from across the league found here.
There’s no way to look at the first four games of the season and not talk about the performance Elaine Chuli put on against New York in her first PWHL start. Chuli made 30 saves on 32 shots, limiting the high powered NY offense and leading the team to their first regulation win.
The first New York goal scored in the contest is one you’d hope Chuli could stop, after Jessie Eldridge beat out the defenders at her heels to bury a shot over the shoulder. However on the second, an incredible shot from Ella Shelton at the blue-line, the netminder was completely screened in front with no hope of seeing the puck. It was a complete, solid showing from the Montréal backup, as so many of her starts tend to be. It’ll be interesting to see when she next draws into the blue paint, especially because of the stalwart in front of her.
That stalwart, Ann-Renée Desbiens, has been steady herself in her appearances, with 63 saves across three starts. While her .900 save percentage doesn’t crack the top five, she’s third in shots faced, minutes, and fourth in total saves. Considering the high powered offenses she has played against, plus the fact that she’s tied for second most starts with three, I’d say it’s a pretty decent start to the season. Not to mention she’s got a long history of incredible play at all levels – the hope is she’s only going to get better from here.
Goaltending statistics from across the league found here.
To absolutely no one’s surprise, Marie-Philip Poulin lead’s Montréal in both goals (3) and points (4). Her point total is in a tie with regular linemate Tereza Vanišová, who has four assists so far this season – tied for first across the league alongside New York defender Ella Shelton.
Poulin and Vanišová started the season on the same line, but in Montréal’s most recent game Saturday against Boston, the pair was split up. Vanišová was swapped down to the second line in favor of Ann-Sophie Bettez, who returned to the lineup after missing the previous two contests for preventative measures (per the team). The swap worked for both players, as they each recorded an assist in the contest.
Overall though the entire top six has been contributing, as each player who routinely plays on those two lines has at least a point through four games. Laura Stacey is just behind Poulin in the goal scoring race with two in three games played, while rookie Maureen Murphy is sixth in the league in assists with three. It’s a tight race at the top in Montréal, as to be expected so early in the season, but if anything the top players have been getting hotter the more games they’ve played – all three of Poulin’s goals occurred during the teams 5-2 win over New York in game three. It’s going to be an interesting contest to see who comes out on top as Montréal settles into the season.
Next Four on Deck:
Game Five: Tues, Jan. 16 — vs New York, 7 p.m. EST
Place Bell, Laval, QC (Sportsnet, MSGN2, SN+, RDS2, PWHL Youtube Channel)
After dropping five on NY just last week, Montréal is right back at it against the team from the Empire State – this time in their own barn.
New York is just one point behind Montréal in the standings, after going 1-1-2-0 over their first four games. Both teams are coming off OT performances, with NY winning theirs over Minnesota on Sunday 3-2 thanks to Emma Woods’ game-winner.
After their first game at home on Saturday, the team will head to Laval, Montréal’s largest suburb. Place Bell will host its first game of the season, and it should be a great one between two of the top teams in the league.
Game Six: Sat, Jan. 20 — vs Toronto, 8 p.m. EST
Verdun Auditorium, Montréal, QC (GEM, TOU.TV, PWHL Youtube Channel)
The last team Montréal is yet to play, Toronto has had a very-not-good start to the season, with just one win through four contests.
Natalie Spooner is the lone Toronto representative in the top-20 in league scoring per the PWHL scoring leaders, with just two points in four games. Emma Maltais and Sarah Nurse also have two points each, with Maltais scoring the first ever “jailbreak” goal in league history – the game winner in the team’s sole victory.
It’ll be interesting to see who starts in net for Toronto, after Kristen Campbell was pulled in favor of Erica Howe in their last game against Ottawa. Howe gave up two goals in 40 minutes in relief on 15 shots faced, after Campbell had given up three in the first. The Toronto team has allowed the second most shot attempts so far, with 114, which hasn’t helped their goaltenders either.
Toronto will take on Boston at home on Jan. 17 before heading to Montréal three days later.
Game Seven: Wed, Jan. 24 — at Minnesota, 8 p.m. EST
Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, MN (Bally Sports North Extra, TSN+, TOU.TV, PWHL Youtube Channel)
Montréal and Minnesota will meet for the second time this month out in the state of hockey. The home team skated away with the shutout win on Jan. 6, and Montréal will hope to repay the favor with their own victory on the night of the 24th.
The only two players to record a hat trick in the PWHL currently will square off in this game. Grace Zumwinkle scored the first ever hat trick in PWHL history against Montréal in that Jan. 6 contest and Poulin followed it up with one of her own against New York. The top two teams after the first two weeks, this is definitely not a contest to miss.
Minnesota will play one game Ottawa on the 17th before the matchup in St. Paul.
Game Eight: Sat, Jan 27 – vs Ottawa, 3:30 p.m. EST
Place Bell, Laval, QC (CBC, GEM, RDS2, PWHL Youtube Channel)
The first team Montréal played and beat comes to town on the 27th to round out the month of January. Ottawa has played only two games in the first two weeks, with their lone win being a dominant 5-1 victory over Toronto.
It’ll be interesting to see how Desbiens and Emmerance Maschmeyer matchup once again, as the two Canadian gold-medalists have been so crucial to the success of the national team over the last few years. Desbiens came out on top after saving 26 of 28 shots the last time around, while Maschmeyer only saved 19 of 22.
Montréal played spoiler in Ottawa’s home-opener, and while this contest will be the second game in Place Bell for Montréal, that still looms over the visiting teams heads. It’ll be an interesting watch to see if they’re able to rebound from that to secure a win in Laval.
Ottawa has three games at home against Minnesota, Toronto, and Boston before making the trip to Montréal to end the month.