We begin 2024 not inauspiciously overall, but Toronto fans have some early cause for concern.
PWHL New York came into downtown Toronto like a hurricane and took the home team by surprise with a 4-0 victory that included three goals in the final frame. A slightly tentative and sloppy first period from both sides still saw New York get the edge, with the first goal in PWHL history being scored by defender Ella Shelton on a wicked-angle shot that beat Kristen Campbell.
Shelton's goal would stand as the game winner, though Toronto had their best showing in the second period, outshooting the visitors 16 to 4. But so much effort for little reward led to a frustrated Toronto squad taking the ice in the third period, and New York was all over the puck. They scored three goals in the space of less than five minutes of clock time to put the game away, and despite a late, extended 5-on-3 chance, Toronto was unable to solve Corinne Schroeder or New York's aggressive defense.
I picked Toronto as a team that could win it all in my season preview because I thought they connected well in preseason action and played a clean game with a lot of confidence, and I also have a tendency to try to not publicly indulge my wildest fantasies (i.e. I always say the thing I don't want to happen, for some reason – maybe as a kind of reverse jinx?). In reality, most of Toronto's talent simply looked like they'd had their wings clipped in their home opener. There was no attention to loose pucks and attention to the middle of the ice in any of the three zones was dilute at best. New York owned the middle in front of Campbell, and at the other end they provided just the right amount of support to let Corinne Schroeder do her job for the shutout. I know Toronto has more to show than this, but pretty much nothing went right in their first game of the season – whereas New York executed perfectly.
Three up, three down
↑ Corinne Schroeder – If you aren't on the Schroeder hype train, there's always still room to get on. The PHF's Goaltender of the Year last season has picked right up where she left off and made her team's job around her easy with excellent positioning and rebound control. When your team scores four goals you don't necessarily need a shutout, but she sure earned one.
↓ Toronto puck support – A microcosm of Toronto's problems in this game was the way New York matched up with Jocelyne Larocque. Larocque looked more human than I've ever seen her and simply got bodied off the puck on multiple occasions when she was expecting to be able to make a smart pass to a teammate. When the puck was loosened from her stick, New York was able to pounce without a Toronto jersey in sight. Toronto players found themselves waiting for passes that weren't going to come instead of going to support the puck on defense and that's a huge part of why this ended 4-0.
↑ PWHL broadcast – The quality of the PWHL's regular season broadcast was very strong, especially for a first go-round. There were some minor audio mixing issues early in the broadcast, which were fixed as the game went on, and play-by-play commentator Daniella Ponticelli made some errors with names and dates at times. But the production quality was very high, and watching the game was a pleasure from start to finish.
↓ Special teams – Neither team scored a goal on the power play, or the penalty kill for that matter (as we learned today, scoring a shorthanded goal will free your penalized teammate from the box in the PWHL). We'll have to wait for the first special teams goal in PWHL history. Tomorrow night, perhaps?
↑ New York faceoffs – PWHL NY won seven straight faceoffs in the final five minutes of the game, which went a long way towards keeping Toronto off the puck and preserving Schroeder's shutout. Overall, they went 61.1% on faceoffs as a team. Jade Downie-Landry alone went 68.8%.
↓ Consistent officiating – The game was physical, and the refs let 'em play, but it's still not 100% clear how bodychecking is going to be called in this league. Several things went un-called which should have been a penalty by the PWHL's rule on bodychecking, but the officials called a much closer game for stick infractions. Five of the six penalties called during this game were stick infraction minors.
VP's Player of the Game
(Throughout the season, when recapping PWHL games, we will shout out a player who was not named as one of the official three stars.)
Emma Maltais – Maltais was a wrecking ball in this game (and got a standing ovation at Mattamy Athletic Centre for a huge check on Jaime Bourbonnais, which probably should have been a minor penalty, to be fair). She also led her team in shots with 5 and was like a dog after a bone with loose pucks. She's the blueprint for how Toronto will need to play when they meet New York on Friday if they want a different result.
- Game replay link (YouTube)
- Game data
- PWHL Rule Book (pdf)
- I probably can't do this for every game, but here's a Google Sheet tabulating faceoff data from today's game as gathered from the PWHL's website. Use and enjoy!