Toronto at Minnesota – 8:00 p.m. ET – Xcel Energy Center
Watch on Linear TV: Bally Sports North Extra, NESN, Sportsnet Pittsburgh, TSN
Note: Later start time, and this game is not on CBC or streamed on Gem. Sportsnet Pittsburgh is a local US broadcaster unrelated to Sportsnet in Canada.
Toronto has played two games so far, a home-and-home with New York. The road team won each game.
Minnesota leads the PWHL with six points after two straight wins, 3-2 over Boston and 3-0 over Montréal.
Minnesota used Nicole Hensley in net to beat Boston in front of the big crowd in Lowell. Then they came back at home with Maddie Rooney to shut out the offensively overloaded Montréal team in front of the record-setting crowd in St. Paul.
Grace Zumwinkle got the first PWHL hat trick in the Montréal game and leads the league in points and goals at the moment. Zumwinkle is not their best forward, however; Taylor Heise is, and she's not going to sit at one goal scored for long.
Minnesota is loaded, that's just the reality. Finnish star Susana Tapani joins an almost entirely American team led by Kendall Coyne Schofield. Lee Stecklein, the American defender I personally find the most irritating tops their defence corps. And that's just the start of the names you might know from Canada vs USA (and possibly be really irritated by).
They are the best team in the PWHL, and this game is a test of Toronto's build, stamina, toughness, skill, commitment and all the other descriptive nouns.
Toronto played one good period in their opener against New York's Corinne Schroeder, who goalied them comprehensively.
The changed up lines in game two helped a lot, but Toronto needs more from the top line. Sarah Nurse has not yet been the dominant player she can be. Neither has Blayre Turnbull, but I have no doubt they'll get there.
In the interim Emma Maltais, who moved up to line two, has been making fans with her gonzo playing style.
Toronto can get hemmed in too much, and they need better breakouts. But they outshot New York in every period but the final one in their win last week. They need to bring everything they have to face Minnesota.
One thing that's interesting about the PWHL season so far is that special teams are not big factors in most games. This is likely a result of new teams who haven't played much yet, and will change, but only Boston (with one game played) has a power play success % that's respectable at 25.
Of a total of 33 power play opportunities, there has been three power play goals scored and one shorthanded goal – Maltais' game winner.
PWHL rules incentivize an aggressive PK because a shorthanded goal ends the power play. One thing we'll learn will be where the success percentage on average will land. In the NHL it declined in the nineties as modern goaltending took hold, but has been gradually rising as new data-driven tactics take over the power play to a fairly consistent 20%.
In the PWHL, you may see more two defender power play units, but the "power kill" has been Team Canada's default style for years, and as Team Canada goes, so goes Toronto.
Most of you likely know what this system looks like, since the Leafs have been using it for years too, but the very cool Rangers site, Blue Seat Blogs has a segment from thirteen years ago describing the basic PK structures. Check them out for more tactics articles and coverage of the Rangers systems over the years.
The top forward moves around, trying to disrupt the power play and also get the puck. You'll see the two forwards switch off at this and when one of them gets a chance, both forwards and sometimes a defender, will go on a breakaway.
How hard do they try to score though? It's plain when you watch the Leafs that the best player at this game – Mitch Marner – has his mind on risk and reward. He will try to score, but he won't very often come in so hard he ends up way behind everyone else back in the corner while the goalie is sending the opponents back up ice with a good pass.
What the PWHL is going to show us is if this rule change affects that calculation or not. It will take time for teams to solidify their tactics on both sides of the power play. But it's something to watch for.
Montréal is leading the league in times shorthanded with 10, and Toronto only has six.
Toronto posts lines prior to games, Minnesota doesn't seem to, so more to come when we have it.
Go Toronto Go! See you at gametime.