We've Got Spoons: Minnesota 1, Toronto 4
- 5 min read

We've Got Spoons: Minnesota 1, Toronto 4

We've Got Spoons: Minnesota 1, Toronto 4 by Zoë Hayden

Toronto went back home after the brief All-Star break and stunned top-ranked Minnesota for their second straight home win in regulation.

What happened?

The first period was deceptive, as teams mostly managed to keep each other to the outside and prevent quality scoring chances. Natalie Spooner put Toronto up 1-0 at the end of the first period, on the power play, by driving the net and picking up her own rebound to put pressure on Nicole Hensley – making the difference in a first period where Minnesota failed to capitalize on their own opportunity on the advantage.

The second period slowly opened things up, and you'd think that Toronto wouldn't want to get into a track meet with Minnesota. Kendall Coyne Schofield's goal to tie the game at 1-1 came from a somewhat controversial no-call wherein Abigail Boreen kind of clotheslined Jocelyne Larocque with her stick during a Minnesota zone entry, meanwhile Kelly Pannek took the puck deep and got a shot off on Kristen Campbell that Coyne Schofield was able to put home five hole.

There was a brief conversation after the goal but ultimately nothing changed. In previous Toronto games, this could have been a sign that things were about to slow down. But Toronto is starting to trust their offense almost as much as their defense, and it's paying dividends. Teams traded chances back and forth all period. Minnesota had their opportunistic chances – including a loose puck sitting in the slot as a gift to Taylor Heise – but the shot was high and to the glass. Toronto seemed to have the better quality looks, and hemmed Minnesota in their own end for long stretches. On one such sequence, Hensley made a spectacular save on Hannah Miller, but no one was able to get a good stick on the rebound (to clear it or otherwise). It popped out to Renata Fast who was able to roof a puck through the crowd to beat Hensley, making it 2-1 late in the second period and getting her first of the season. Toronto was unable to extend their lead on a late power play granted for an illegal hit by Sophia Kunin (she checked Spooner in the face for crowding her goaltender), but they still went to the locker room with the advantage.

The third period stayed open for Toronto, and they managed to push the pace and force Minnesota into a transition game – which, this time around, benefited Toronto. In the middle of the frame, Emma Maltais hit Spooner with a long pass as she was coming up the right wing, and Blayre Turnbull raced for the net. Spooner found Turnbull on her backhand and the puck went straight to the back of the net.

Off the very next faceoff at center, Toronto stormed back into the zone and the puck rimmed around to Jocelyne Larocque, who just quickly turned it back towards the net. Spooner was waiting along the way to get a stick on it and put it past Hensley to give Toronto their biggest lead of the season, and their most goals scored yet in a single game. Things quieted down after that. Toronto wasn't giving Minnesota much room, and Minnesota looked disconnected after those two quick goals just 16 seconds apart.

In short: the PWHL standings just got a lot more interesting.

Three up, three down

↑ Blayre Turnbull – Doesn't have to listen to people talking about how she doesn't have a goal yet. An incredible feed by Spooner and an elite backhand tip by the Toronto captain.

↓ Pulling the goalie – With a late power play chance by Minnesota, Daniella Ponticelli and Becky Kellar wondered aloud why Ken Klee's team didn't pull Hensley. This seemed evident, though, based on our previous experience of a shorthanded empty netter ending the power play. Allowing free shots at the empty net when they will sink your advantage doesn't seem wise – even just from a team morale perspective – with, realistically, a very slim chance you'll come back from 4-1 late in the game. This is the first time in awhile we've seen a PWHL team really have to concede defeat in an insurmountable multi-goal deficit. Just 9 of the 24 games played so far in this PWHL season have been decided by more than one goal, and some of those had empty netters padding the score line. Being up by more than one late in the game is a rare luxury in this league and PWHL Toronto got to enjoy it in front of their home crowd.

↑ Toronto, in the standings – With three points in their second straight regulation win, Toronto has temporarily leapfrogged into #3 in the PWHL standings. It will be short-lived, since all the teams behind them have games-in-hand. The best they can finish after tomorrow's matchups is #4. (Editor's note: I was wrong about this; with Ottawa beating NY in OT, New York sits at #4 and Toronto hangs on to #3 by virtue of having more regulation wins as a tiebreaker.) But they'll find themselves in a much better position than they started when league play resumes after the upcoming international break. Getting three-point regulation wins is a huge deal in this league. Stringing them together is not easy. Minnesota was the last team to do it, opening their season with a three-game regulation win streak. But no one had done it since until now.

↓ Minnesota's special teams – Minnesota went 0 for 3 on the player advantage and also allowed a power play goal. They're tied for Montreal with the league-worst power play percentage (4.2%) and are killing penalties at the league-worst rate as well, just 78.6%. As opponents settle in and learn how to defend against Minnesota's offensive weapons (such as Heise, who has been held without a goal since January 10), those special teams numbers are going to get more concerning for Minnesota.

↓ ↑ Roster moves – The PWHL formally announced some roster moves on February 3. Victoria Bach was signed to a 1-year SPA with Toronto now that she has completed her teaching certification. As a result, Jess Jones was released from her SPA (standard player agreement) and assigned to the reserve roster. Any one-year SPA can be terminated for on-ice performance reasons, per the CBA. It seems like this can basically be used to make any roster improvement the team staff desires – which is how pro hockey normally works, but the PWHL doesn't have a developmental squad to assign anyone to yet, so players who are cut are just cut, or placed on reserves. In the case of defender Victoria Howran, formally of Ottawa, she's now a free agent. The player who replaced her on the roster, Emma Buckles, had previously signed a 1-year SPA with Boston but had it terminated during preseason and was placed on the reserve roster there. It seems like no roster will be final in the PWHL until the as-yet-unknown roster freeze date. Players whose SPAs are terminated are entitled to 4 weeks severance pay based on base salary, 4 weeks of their housing stipend, and 4 weeks of health coverage at the League's expense. It's unclear how exactly a player who has had their SPA terminated joins a reserve roster, but we have reached out to the PWHL to ask whether a player being "moved" to reserves is the result of them mutually agreeing to a new contract with a team.

VP's Player of the Game

Kristen Campbell – Campbell has now won three straight starts and has buoyed Toronto to the point that they are starting to figure out their offense. Going back to their shootout victory over Montreal, they've looked like a completely different team in front of her.

(Photo: PWHL)