RECAP: Minnesota Stumbles on Tail End of Back-to-Back, Lose 2-1 to Montréal

RECAP: Minnesota Stumbles on Tail End of Back-to-Back, Lose 2-1 to Montréal
Photo courtesy of the PWHL.

PWHL Minnesota fell to Montréal 2-1 Sunday February 18th in the second half of a back-to-back, after defeating Ottawa the day before. 

Back-to-back games are never a walk in the park, but a back-to-back that includes travel is especially brutal, even the relatively short approximately two and a half hour drive between Ottawa and Montréal. On top of that, Minnesota is down to eleven forwards due to injury and trades. 

Prior to the game, the league announced that PWHL Montréal had signed Catherine Dubois to a full SPA. Dubois, who began as a reserve and subsequently signed two 10-day short term SPAs, has more than earned the promotion, bringing physicality and impressive work ethic to Montréal’s bottom six. In a corresponding move, Montréal placed defender Dominika Lásková on long-term IR. They have been utilizing Leah Lum as a defender consistently since Lásková’s injury, and appear set to do so for the foreseeable future.

With Taylor Heise still out and Liz Schepers not dressing, Minnesota was down to three centers and rolled Kelly Pannek, Michaela Cava, and Clair DeGeorge down the middle. The lineup remained mostly the same with DeGeorge simply moving up to center the third line. Maddie Rooney took over in net after an impressive game from Nicole Hensley against Ottawa. 

The game was extremely even from the beginning, with both teams trading chances and blocking shots early on. Less than five minutes into the game, Emma Greco went to the box for tripping, sending out Montréal’s power play. Despite having a roster deep with offensive talent, Montréal’s power play has struggled this season. Today, however, Claire Dalton opened the scoring with a power play goal, her second marker of the season. She tipped in a shot from Kati Tabin, a play that Maddie Rooney had no chance at stopping as she was screened by not one but two Montréal players. This was Montréal’s first-ever power play goal (yes, you read that right), putting them at a 3% conversion rate.

Minnesota did not lose much momentum after the goal, though, and in fact responded with a press of their own that resulted in a tying goal just before the end of the first period. Claire Butorac, whose first game on the top line was yesterday against Ottawa, took the initial shot on Elaine Chuli. Chuli made a pad save, attempting to kick the rebound out into the corner for a defender to retrieve. Unfortunately for her, Kendall Coyne-Schofield was on the ice, and as we all know, there’s nobody faster. She collected the rebound and placed a backhanded shot high glove over Chuli’s shoulder to tie the game with just over two minutes left in the first period.

The second period was another very even period of hockey, with both teams holding possession for full shifts at a time. Mariah Keopple went to the box for holding a little over five minutes into the period, but the Minnesota power play was unable to convert. Just over halfway into the period, Sophie Jaques took her turn in the box, serving two minutes for hooking. 

Montréal technically did not score on that power play either, but they did score very shortly after the penalty expired. In a move not terribly dissimilar from Coyne-Schofield’s goal, Sarah Lefort scored her first PWHL goal. She passed the puck to rookie defender Madison Bizal, who took the initial shot. Rooney saved Bizal’s shot but could not freeze the puck, and Lefort was there to collect the rebound. With Rooney already down on the ice from the initial save, Lefort easily elevated the puck into the net. Bizal’s primary assist was also her first professional point. 

The Montréal penalty kill– or Minnesota’s power play woes–was the story of the third period. Both teams continued to take their chances, but Montreal went on the penalty kill twice, once for a Leah Lum delay of game penalty, and finally for a Kati Tabin hooking call. They killed both penalties as Minnesota continued to struggle with the woman advantage. Although they have scored more power play goals than Montréal, Minnesota is barely coming out ahead in this department, having scored on two of their twenty-seven attempts.

Elaine Chuli ended with a .955 SV% and recorded her fourth win of the season, remaining the only goalie in the league who has yet to be credited with a loss. This was Maddie Rooney’s first overtime loss, and her season save percentage is still sitting at a healthy .911 SV%. Although she only saved 18 of 20 shots today, it would be wrong to suggest that the loss was up to her, especially considering how soundly screened she was on the power play goal against. The truth is that Minnesota really needs to work out what it’s going to take to get their power play clicking, but it’s difficult to do that with eleven healthy forwards.

Montréal will move on to play New York on Wednesday after New York’s dramatic overtime win against Boston this weekend. Minnesota has a full week before their next game, and will face Boston, who has to play Ottawa twice this week, Tuesday and Friday. You can bet that Minnesota hopes to have Taylor Heise back for their next game, but don’t underestimate the impact of having Schepers back for their bottom-six center depth, either. Sunday will also be the first game Minnesota and Boston play against each other after the trade that sent Sophie Jaques to Minnesota for Susanna Tapani and Abby Cook, so it’s a must-watch for plenty of reasons.