Montréal at Toronto - 7:00 p.m. ET – Scotiabank Arena
Watch on Linear TV: TSN
Streaming: YouTube French: RDS

The oldest rivalry in Canadian hockey, the ultimate us vs them, goes tonight in front of what will be a record-setting crowd.

Montréal is first in points % with .630, and they have 3 RW, 3 OTW, 2 OTL, and 1 L.

Toronto is third in points % (whoo hoo playoff position) with .467, and the have 4 RW, 1 OTW, 0 OTL, and 5 L.


With Toronto's win two days ago, Natalie Spooner sits atop the points and goals list for the PWHL. You know who is second in goals scored? Marie-Philip Poulin, that's who.

Poulin is the best player in the league (sorry to Taylor Heise, Alina Müller, as well as Spooner). She is the dominating star 1C every team wants to have. And there's not a lot she doesn't do better than everyone else.

If you want to beat Montréal, you have to shut Poulin down. You can't plan to just outscore them because both Montréal goalies are above average in Save %.


In the last Toronto game, which they won 5-3 over Boston, there was a mention on the broadcast that coach Troy Ryan is not happy about his choices for faceoffs. He doesn't have anyone to use as the go-to woman to get him key faceoff wins.

As an example, in that game Toronto won 16 faceoffs, and Boston 20. So four faceoffs in a game is not a lot to worry about. The percentage is bad, 44% for Toronto. But in this one game, 50% would be achieved with just two more wins.

That's the sort of logic that says faceoffs don't matter. And like a lot of statistically based hockey truisms, they come from analysis of NHL data which contains thousands of examples of everything, including faceoffs.

Sometimes people fall into modes of thinking about NHL hockey that are more properly used with something like medicine. If 50% of the people in a study find DoPS inexplicable, then we can infer that 50% of people in general will as well. But NHL players are not a random sample of humanity. They are some of the most carefully chosen hockey players in history. So what's true for them isn't true for your rec league. Or the PWHL in its first season.

NHL players are winnowed down so that most teams have someone or several someones who routinely win over 50% of the faceoffs. They use them the most. And because they do, and because even a bad faceoff taker in the NHL is not far below 50% (or he gets replaced) then it's fairly safe to say that over the course of a season, faceoff wins aren't a significant factor in game outcomes. Most teams want someone to take defensive zone draws and win them cleanly. But overall, they just need to win something close to half. And if they don't, there are a lot of other hockey techniques that get possession of the puck.

Using the PWHL data from before February 14, this is the overall team picture:

Team Total Faceoffs FW%
Boston 361 47.09%
Minnesota 476 50.84%
Montreal 496 52.62%
New York 481 54.05%
Ottawa 346 45.66%
Toronto 456 47.59%

Is Toronto so far below 50% that it matters? On 456 faceoffs, that's 11 wins shy of 50%. What if your standards are a team percentage of 52%. You want to be good, not just average. That's about 20 losses you aren't happy with. That's more than two per game. And that might have an impact on game outcomes, but a very small one. Except for when the other team wins a d-zone draw and uses a set play to put it right in the net. Then suddenly faceoffs matter a lot.

Troy Ryan does have someone who is at that mark of 52%. Sarah Nurse. Blayre Turnbull, who takes an outsized proportion of faceoffs at 147 to date, is at 44%. The conversation about faceoffs seems to be just another way to say that Nurse is a good centre, and Turnbull hasn't been.

Ryan opened the season thinking Turnbull was the 1C, and Nurse would have to move to wing. He switched up quickly when that didn't work, but if Toronto is lacking in faceoffs, it's in the second choices, and in the choices far down the list when the depth plays or the first choice gets kicked from the circle. Hannah Miller has been very bad in limited use. In reality, a FOGO four C might help the team a little. But if anything the faceoff discussion is really a proxy for the difficulty Toronto has with Turnbull and Jesse Compher to some lesser degree as centres in general.

It's all about the quest for a team built with dominating centre depth. Every coach's dream.

The Game

Loud and proud and fun. That's what I want. See you at seven.