After a week off for the All-Star break, PWHL Boston is back in action this afternoon as they face off against first-place Montréal.
The Basics: Sunday, February 4, 2024- Boston vs Montréal- 3:30 p.m. EST, Tsongas Center, Lowell, MA (NESN, TSN, PWHL Youtube Channel, RDS)
What to Expect:
Boston is coming into this game on a high, having won two straight leading into the All-Star break. Most recently, they beat second-place Minnesota in overtime thanks to Hilary Knight’s first PWHL goal. They came out flying in the first half of that game, and head coach Courtney Kessel called it their most complete game of the season. Boston will need to carry that momentum through today’s game to give themselves a chance to win.
Meanwhile, Montréal is also riding a two-game win streak into this one. Last game, they beat Ottawa 2-1 in overtime on the back of a 44-save performance by Ann-Renée Desbiens. The first period of the game was relatively even, but then Ottawa took over and eventually outshot Montréal 44-24. That said, Montréal is rock solid up and down the lineup, and they are in first place for a reason. They have a knack for making the most of every opportunity they get, so Boston will need to be sure to limit their chances, particularly grade-A ones.
Last time out between these two teams, Boston took home a 3-2 overtime win in Montréal’s home opener. It was a fast, exciting, highly competitive game that remains one of the most entertaining of the season. Expect a similar game this afternoon.
As for the goaltenders, expect Montréal to go with Ann-Renée Desbiens. She’s been their go-to, playing six games to Elaine Chuli’s two. She’s been rock-solid in goal, posting a 2.11 GAA and 0.930 SV%, and she is a huge reason why Montréal is in first place. Desbiens was at the All-Star game, so she had less of a break than many of her teammates. But, playing half of a 20-minute showcase couldn’t have been particularly taxing, so it would be a big surprise to see Chuli in goal.
Last, but not least, expect Boston to give Aerin Frankel her first home start since the home opener back on January 3. Kessel appears content to rotate her goaltenders, who have shown why many had them pegged as the league’s best tandem in the pre-season. Frankel enters today with a sparkling 1.91 GAA and 0.925 SV% through four games. Meanwhile, Söderberg’s numbers look bad at first glance (3.36 GAA and 0.879 SV% in three games), but she is also facing an average of just 22 shots a game, which is the second-fewest in the league. So, any goal has a dramatic impact on her, and the eye test supports that she’s playing much better than her numbers suggest. But anyway, given that Söderberg got the last start, it makes sense to go back to Frankel, who was phenomenal in the team’s first game against Montréal and has more experience against their top players. Like Desbiens, Frankel was at the All-Star game so had a little less of a break, but still count on seeing her.
Boston’s Key to the Game
Playing a well-rounded 60 minutes will also be essential, but no matter how well you play defensively, you can’t win if you don’t score. Boston’s offense has come alive in the past couple of games, and we’re beginning to see the team we expected at the beginning of the season. Their top offensive players have arrived, and if they keep finding the scoresheet, Boston will give themselves a good chance in this one. That said, depth scoring would also be a huge boost, and everyone might have to settle for some garbage goals today. Ann-Renée Desbiens is one of the best goaltenders in the world, and she is not easily solved. Early in the season Boston tended to try to get too cute with their goals, but over the past couple of games, they have been better about it. That will also need to continue for Boston to walk out with a win.