RECAP: PWHL Toronto Takes Down PWHL Montréal in Steel City Takeover

Amidst injuries and roster movement, PWHL Montréal loses third straight in Pittsburgh.

RECAP: PWHL Toronto Takes Down PWHL Montréal in Steel City Takeover
Toronto's Emma Maltais protects the puck from Montréal's Erin Ambrose, via Arianne Bergeron/PWHL.

A close game delivered another loss to PWHL Montréal, who suffered their third straight loss at the hands of PWHL Toronto on Sunday in Pittsburgh. A crowd of 8,850 turned out to watch the neutral site game at PPG Paints Arena, home of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, and set a record for attendance at a women’s hockey game in the state.

Montréal’s captain and top scorer Marie-Philip Poulin was officially day-to-day entering Sunday, but all indications were that she would not play. Both she and Ann-Sophie Bettez were ruled out for the game, and two other players were gameday decisions with illness. Claire Dalton returned after missing four games to injury, taking a spot on the top line, and newly-signed reserve Mikyla Grant-Mentis played on a 10-day SPA.

The game was well-fought, but in a calculated way rather than the physical battles we've seen Montréal go through recently. Toronto dominated to start and put up the first goal seven minutes in. Montréal fought back and were slowly turning the tide when Kristin O’Neill broke through with a beautiful shot.

That felt like it swung the momentum back to Montréal, but Toronto had it back by the end of the period.

In the second and third, it was the same story. The teams felt decently matched, which one might expect from two of the top teams in the league, but Montréal was certainly feeling the absence of Poulin’s game-breaking ability. Toronto consistently looked like the better team, though not by much. Kali Flanagan scored the game-winner with a long shot that went over Ann-Renée Desbiens' shoulder from the goal line, and, flukey as it was, it did feel like a just reward for Toronto’s play. The game ended 2-1, with shots 26-18 in Toronto’s favor.

Toronto is now 4-0 against Montréal on the season, though Montréal put an end to Toronto’s two-game shutout streak in the matchup.

Montréal successfully defended one power play opportunity in the game and failed to convert on two advantages. Despite a recent spurt of success, the power play is back to a very un-threatening look. 

New addition in maroon Mikyla Grant-Mentis looked good on the ice. She had two good scoring chances that went just over the crossbar and made a few flashy plays to maintain possession, set up a shot, and steal the puck. Her 10-day contract will allow her to play in Montréal’s next game at Minnesota on Sunday, if she is needed.

And she may well be needed, because Montréal’s constantly-shifting lineup has changed once again. Ann-Sophie Bettez has been placed on long-term injury, which would by itself open up a 13th forward spot. Then, on Monday, Montréal announced the first trade in franchise history: forward Tereza Vanišová to Ottawa for defender Amanda Boulier.

Boulier is a three-time Defender of the Year finalist in the NWHL/PHF and she has a goal and five assists on the season with Ottawa–the most assists among their defenders. She’ll take the place of Dominika Lásková, who has been ruled out for the season. 

Montréal also added two players to refill their depleted reserves on Tuesday: forwards Liliane Perreault and Brooke Stacey. Perreault played for PWHL Ottawa in the preseason, then scored 11 points in 12 games with the SDHL's Fröluna HC this season. Stacey, who played one year in the SDHL and three years in the PHF, trained with Montréal in the preseason.

With only one game left before the international break, PWHL Montréal won’t expect too much from their new players and lines against Minnesota. How they adapt to the changes, and how they heal from injuries and illness, will determine the rest of the season.

But prior to that, Montréal will have a chance to stop their slide and tie Minnesota for second place in the league standings. A regulation win on Sunday in Minnesota would allow Montréal to match Minnesota’s 33 points. With only five games after the break, every point matters.

Montréal will take on PWHL Minnesota at the Xcel Energy Center on Sunday, March 24 at 4 pm ET.