RECAP: Toronto Ties Montréal at Top of League Standings With Physical Shutout

PWHL Montréal fell to a blazing Toronto team and Marie-Philip Poulin sustained an injury in a physical battle Friday night.

RECAP: Toronto Ties Montréal at Top of League Standings With Physical Shutout
Toronto goaltender Kristen Campbell makes a save, via PWHL

"Roughing" was the story of the game as PWHL Montréal were shut out by a Toronto team that has established the longest winning streak in PWHL history. It was Toronto’s second straight shutout and third straight win over Montréal. 

After Wednesday’s game against New York set a new league high for penalties, Montréal claimed the second place spot as well. Ten minor penalties were called in Friday’s game at Mattamy Athletic Center, split evenly between the teams. Six penalties came from a single shoving incident in the second period that saw three players from each squad in their respective penalty boxes.

Toronto got on the board on the second shift of the game on a goal from Toronto’s dangerous second line. Hannah Miller shoveled the puck past Elaine Chuli from right in front of the net after a wraparound attempt by Natalie Spooner.

It was only the first example of a pattern that continued throughout the game. Toronto had more energy and speed all night, giving them the advantage on the forecheck and in puck battles, and Montréal’s defense couldn’t keep attackers away from Chuli. Meanwhile, when Montréal got the puck to Toronto’s end, Toronto’s skaters made a square formation in front of and around Kristen Campbell’s net. That forced Montréal to take their shots from the outside and encouraged turnovers.

Toronto’s second goal followed the pattern. The home team gained the zone and was able to maintain possession while cycling the puck. Defender Olivia Knowles took a low shot from above the circle and Rebecca Leslie, despite being marked by a Montréal skater, managed to tip it up over Chuli's shoulder. Coming three minutes into the third and extending the lead to two, Leslie's goal was a dagger. 

Montréal gave up two power play opportunities in the game and defended them, and failed to score on either of their chances. Their second advantage came late in the third and resulted in a short-handed empty net goal for Emma Maltais after Chuli was pulled for the extra attacker.

For goaltender Elaine Chuli, the back-up or 1B for the team, Friday’s shutout marked her first loss in six games in the PWHL. She was the final goalie to record a loss of those to have played a full game in the league. Chuli stopped 30 of the 32 shots she faced and was awarded the third star of the game. She remains the league leader in goals against average (1.34) and save percentage (95.8%).

Evidence of fatigue could be seen for Montréal throughout the game. While Toronto is in the midst of a homestand, Montréal was playing their third game in seven days and their second straight on the road. It’s not a schedule most of these players would be used to, whether they’re coming from the NCAA or a previous professional league. As reported by La Presse, the team took a bus for the first leg of their road trip to Connecticut from Montréal. In the torrential rain the tri-state area saw on Wednesday, the drive likely passed six hours.

As Montréal came off their game against New York, one of the more ‘hard to play against’ teams in the league, the night’s physicality might have been a strategy by Toronto to take advantage of the bumps and bruises Montréal’s players were no doubt carrying. But the officiating, which some observers felt fell short of a safe standard, no doubt contributed to the way the game went.

Of note, and perhaps a cause for concern going forward, is an injury to team captain Marie-Philip Poulin that took place late in the game. Although she was having visible difficulty skating, Poulin performed an impressive backcheck to prevent Sarah Nurse from scoring an empty-net goal. Poulin’s status going forward is not clear.

Montréal will have the opportunity to regain first place in the league when they host PWHL Ottawa at Place Bell on Sunday afternoon.