It wasn't the ideal start for Toronto as they kicked off the inaugural PWHL season with New York as they got shutout 4-0 at home.
Ella Shelton scored the first ever PWHL goal in the first period, Alex Carpenter, Jill Saulnier, and Kayla Vespa all scored in the third period to seal the win for New York. Corinne Schroeder stopped all 29 shots she faced for the first win and first shutout for her and the league.
Kristen Campbell was in net for Toronto, allowing four goals on 28 shots. Emma Maltais led the way with four shots, Sarah Nurse, Jesse Compher, Alexa Vasko, and Natalie Spooner all had three shots.
Toronto and New York have a rematch on Friday, Jan 5th for their second games of the season.
Tomorrow, Montreal and Ottawa face each other in the nation's capital, broadcast on TSN, RDS, and Youtube available in Canada.
The PWHL kicked off their broadcast with the journey it's taken to be here. From volunteer, to semi-pro, to the first legitimate, real, actually, fully pro league.
This video honouring the past was played at 12:30 when the game was moments away.
Billie Jean King and Jayna Hefford got emotional as they walked down to centre ice for the ceremonial faceoff. This has been their baby (as well as Kendall Coyne's) for a really long time.
via PWHL Toronto
Sarah Nurse (20) - Blayre Turnbull (40) - Samantha Cogan (17)
Maggie Connors (22) - Jesse Compher (18) - Natalie Spooner (24)
Hannah Miller (34) - Emma Maltais (27) - Brittany Howard (41)
Kaitlyn Willoughby (28) - Alexa Vasko (10) - Rebecca Leslie (19)
Jocelyn Larocque (3) - Renata Fast (14)
Lauriane Rougeau (5) - Kali Flanagan (6)
Allie Munroe (12) - Olivia Knowles (7)
Kristen Campbell (50)
Erica Howe (37)
Scratched: Jess Jones (23), Victoria Bach (51), Emma Keenan (21), Jessica Kondas (55), Maude Poulin-Labelle (76), Carly Jackson (70)
New York's Lines
via Kyle Cushman
Paetyn Levis (19) - Alex Carpenter (25) - Jessie Eldridge (9)
Emma Woods 67) - Abby Roque (11) - Elizabeth Giguère (18)
Jill Saulnier (44) - Jade Downie-Landry (27) - Chloe Aurard (12)
Kayla Vespa (10) - Alexandra Labelle (13) - Savannah Norcross (71)
Ella Shelton (17) - Jaime Bourbonnais (14)
Brooke Hobson (6) - Johanna Fällman (59)
Taylor Baker (4) - Olivia Zafuto (3)
Corinne Schroeder (30)
Abigail Levy (39)
Micah Zandee-Hart and Madison Packer were out due to injury.
The game was called by Daniella Ponticelli and Cheryl Pounder. Let's go!
Roque released Giguère on a breakaway, but Munroe caught up and directed the New Yorker into the corner. The Roque line, however, kept pressure in the offensive zone and Campbell had to find a bouncing puck in tight to stop the play.
Brittany Howard made a great move off the rush to pivot around a New York defender, but her pass to the slot for Howard or Maltais didn't find a stick.
Leslie won a foot race to the o-zone corner and threw the puck to the blue paint for Willoughby but didn't quite connect.
Turnbull got tripped going over the blueline on the rush/forecheck, to no call from the referees (it begins already).
Toronto definitely like those backdoor passes. We saw three attempts in the first 10 minutes.
Wingers Spooner and Connors stole the puck at the top of the defensive zone and were off to the races on a contested 2-on-1. Connors drove to the middle and created some space behind her for Spooner to backhand a shot towards Schroeder. New York did well to make it a 2-on-2 with the second defender coming back.
Alex Carpenter turned a defensive faceoff win into a breakaway by just being faster than everyone else. Campbell followed the puck and got the shot safely in her breadbasket.
Ella Shelton with history's first PWHL goal. The 25-year-old Ingersoll, Ontario native drafted fourth overall by New York took a shot from the half boards through a screen and past an unready Campbell. The lone assist went to the faceoff woman Alex Carpenter.
Rebecca Leslie took a slashing penalty after a dominant follow-up shift for New York where they nearly scored again.
A new shorthanded rule pioneered by the PWHL says if you score shorthanded then the penalty ends.
With three seconds left in the power play, Emma Maltais got hooked by Giguère, sending Toronto to the power play after a brief taste of 4v4. New York got two shots on their power play that tried to find space beside Campbell's ears, but shot them high.
Unreal spin-a-round pass from Larocque as she was falling into the corner (yes, she was a full 200ft from her net) that Compher got two whacks at. As a scramble ensued in front of the net, Compher thought she scored but the whistle went.
Nurse got behind Bourbonnais as she received a pass across the blue line from Turnbull. Nurse attempted the toe drag on an aggressive Schroeder, but Bourbonnais disrupted the move.
After one, Toronto trails 0-1 thanks to a goal from Ella Shelton.
#Tank4Fillier time? Okay, maybe that's a little too soon.
Munroe impressed me from the third pair with her foot-speed and smarts. She won some races coming back defensively and neutralized chances against, and she did well to eliminate the options for a New Yorker on a 2-on-1 defensively, sliding across to knock away the puck.
Shots were 4-11 in favour of New York near the end of the period, but a flurry of action saw Toronto bring the shot total up to 8-13. Toronto was definitely working to keep up for most of the period. Alex Carpenter especially was a menace.
Some additional insight.
Toronto got a power play at the end of the first period with Jessie Eldridge going to the box for hooking.
Nurse with the first good chance of the period, trying the toe drag again on Schroeder, but getting swarmed again by the New Yorkers coming back.
Connors and Compher had a great pair of shifts as they were all over the offensive zone, creating open space for each other with Spooner getting in the way in front of the net.
It was a strong first half of the period for Toronto, who came out of the intermission out-shooting New York 9-2 and re-taking the shot lead. They looked like a team much more on par with the quality of chances New York was getting in the first. I feel like early on Toronto will be a team fighting for offense.
Schroeder got bowled over twice in this period. First by Compher after Connors was threatening for a pass from the left flank. The second was from Cogan as Captain Turnbull tried to feed her in the blue paint.
This second period has been a riot, I'm loving it! Lots of flowing play, physical, lots of chances, few whistles. It's hard to recap, but a joy to watch.
That second period was tonnes of fun. Toronto definitely deserved to be tied or ahead, but PHF goalie of the year Corinne Schroeder closed the door.
Shots were 16-4 in favour of Toronto, giving them the overall lead in shots at 24-17.
One thing I think Toronto is missing are some high quality shooters. They have a few in Nurse, Spooner to a degree, and Howard to a lesser extent, but I think they're hoping to get Victoria Bach in the lineup soon. Maybe I'm still too close to the Draft and free agency because I'm still thinking about Loren Gabel, who's on Boston now.
Tessa Bonhomme spoke about this same issue during the intermission panel. How Toronto was getting some shots, but they weren't able to get full contact or a full release. She theories Toronto might be looking too much for the pass and not just going for the shot. Losing that hesitancy, focusing on rebounds, and having a bit more of an attacking mentality would be the adjustment she would make in the third period.
And here's a taste of the physicality in the second period.
Alex Carpenter hasn't been slowed down all game and she finally made a rush stick with a massive snipe to the top corner. Pure class from USA's 1C. Toronto's forwards definitely got lazy on the forecheck and allowed so much space between them and the 2-on-1 rush the other way. No chance for a back check, no pressure.
Jill Saulnier makes it three, redirecting a centering pass from Downie-Landry off another rush. Toronto weren't connecting at all and those mistakes gave New York the chances they needed to build a cushion on the scoreboard. Aurard got the second assist.
And that's four, with New York's fourth line getting the goal. Turnovers, loose rebounds, problems throughout the game for Toronto all went wrong on this shift. Kayla Vespa eventually got the goal from Labelle and Bourbonnais.
Toronto took a timeout after this goal.
Vasko called for a body check (interference) as Toronto have looked weaker and New York only stronger.
Maltais hit Bourbonnais hard into the boards as they fought for a puck in the first response Toronto gave after giving up three in a row. Rebecca Leslie got into a cross-checking match with a New York player in the neutral zone away from the puck, as well. I wanted to ask at the time what the plan is from that response to scoring goals.
Toronto got an extended 5v3 power play with Eldridge going to the box for hooking, and then Saulnier also for hooking while shorthanded.
Toronto didn't score on the 5v3, and the second 5v4 expired as well. They didn't seem to develop a strong formation and at the least were stuck around the outside.
This is only one game so my takeaways will definitely change, but here's what I see. Toronto have decided to make a team whose strength is defense. They believe they have a strong goaltender in Campbell, but she hasn't played enough competitively for me to know the answer, especially against the Olympic starters on other teams. And on offense, they have players who can win puck battles and move the puck forward.
This structure works when the team has the lead, but as you can see in this game Toronto never did. The defense stifles the play, the forwards can clear the zone, and the skaters can support the goalie. But when Toronto needed to get a goal in the third, they needed to start cheating offensively, which created holes defensively, and an overwhelming situation on the goalie who didn't shut down any of the three chances that came her way in that important third period stretch.
It appears to me Toronto needs more scorers, more players who have the instincts to take the shot and shoot hard. A lot of the shots Toronto got, especially in the second, were half-hearted and more seemed like settling on a shot when a pass didn't develop.
I could be very wrong and there's plenty of talented shooters on this team – it wouldn't surprise me if it just requires a mentality change from the coaching/motivation side. Either way, Toronto need to figure out how to make the most of the chances they get, and not try to pass the puck into the net. It's especially difficult to pass the puck into the net against a very tall New York team with long sticks and a very mobile goalie. It was just not the right tactic for this game.
My last thought on this game, and what I'm interested moving forward is what kind of sport are we expecting the PWHL to be. I think Toronto's idea was physical and heavy, which is the roster they developed. I'm seeing speed being much more important to outcomes from this game. I'm not saying that's the identity of the league, it's just one game, we'll see how that changes.
If you want to watch the game and missed it, it was streamed on Youtube internationally (and not geo-blocked in Canada) so the replay is available on the PWHL's Youtube channel.