If the Women’s World Championships seem to have cured PWHL Montreal’s power play woes, the same cannot be said of their habit of taking their foot off the pedal when they have a lead.

After a three-week hiatus to allow their best players to partake in the Women’s World Championships, the PWHL resumed its activities on Thursday night with two games on deck. The first featured Toronto visiting Boston, and the second saw Montreal welcome Minnesota. For Montreal, riding a four-game losing streak, winning was a must to remain in the hunt for the top of the standings. Head coach Kori Cheverie hoped that the return of her star player and team captain, Marie-Philip Poulin, would go a long way toward that desired outcome.

Montreal started strong and dominated the first frame, taking a two-goal lead, with both markers coming on the power play. This was largely because of Poulin’s return, as she had a goal and an assist. Once in front, though, the locals took their foot off the gas, as they have done so often this season.

As a result, the second frame was all Minnesota, and in a little over five minutes, the visitors flipped the game on its head, taking a 3-2 lead. However, in less than a minute and a half in the final frame, Montreal equalized after pulling their goalie and scoring the game-winning goal. This scenario must have felt like Groundhog Day for the many PWHL Minnesota players who were part of Team USA and saw Poulin’s team come from behind to be crowned world champions.

While Cheverie’s players got the result they needed, it’s impossible to miss two glaring issues with the team: their inability to play with a lead and their over-reliance on Poulin. It might have just been a good scare last night, but Montreal came insanely close to losing. Maybe it’s something they put in the water in Montreal, as the Montreal Canadiens had the same issue this season. Whether it’s using sports psychologists or having a team meeting, there is a way to fix the problem.

Montreal Playing With the Lead

In the post-game press conference, Poulin was asked about her team’s tendency to blow a lead, to which she replied:

Our second [period] is always something we’ve got to manage. I think that’s something we’ve got to be aware of, obviously, for the last four games of the season, making sure we come out hard. They’ve got a great team, every team is going to play hard. Being down 3-2 in the third, like KO [Kristin O’Neil] said, we flipped the switch, we know when it’s time to put in the work. Obviously, you do want to do that for 60 minutes, but hockey is such a momentum game. And just finding ways to do the little details right, in the end, we did and, obviously, our power play clicked today. That six on five was huge, and we’ll go from there.

There was nothing groundbreaking in her answer. She said everything a captain is expected to say in that situation. Nevertheless, in the playoffs, the switch will have to be flipped from the start, and the effort will have to last 60 minutes or more, not less.

Over-Reliance on Poulin

When the most famous women’s hockey player got injured on March 8, fans were worried about their team’s playoff aspirations. Her absence led to a slide in the standings and a four-game losing streak. Montreal lost three games and scored five goals without their captain. You won’t win games by scoring a single goal. This is hockey, not soccer.

Poulin being back in the lineup Thursday sparked the offense as he had a goal and two assists. It seemed like her presence made her Team Canada teammates more confident, and they produced as they should have in the three league games she missed in March. Laura Stacey got a goal and two assists, Kristen O’Neil scored twice, and Erin Ambrose recorded four assists, becoming the first PWHL player to do that in a single game.  

Marie-Philip Poulin PWHL Montreal
Marie-Philip Poulin PWHL Montreal (Arianne Bergeron/PWHL)

Commenting about her team’s performance against Minnesota and putting an end to their losing streak, Cheverie explained:

Someone had said: ‘Oh, are you going to break the streak today?’ And I said, ‘Why has Minnesota won a lot of games in a row or something?’ And they’re like ‘no, you’ve lost four in a row!’ And I’m like, ‘oh yeah, well to me it hasn’t felt like four in a row because every game, or you know parts of it, felt like we should have been right there and so to me, it hasn’t felt like this kind of big slump that others on the outside looking in may feel.’ Today definitely gave us a big boost of confidence, it was huge for us. it’s so hard to win three points in this league. It’s something that the players in that room were definitely excited about after the game, and we’ll continue to roll on that momentum.

While the coach is correct that her team stayed close to the competition, being close doesn’t earn points in the standings or wins in the playoffs. If they always need Poulin to get them going, Montreal will be in big trouble every time she goes down on the battleground. Everyone in Canada would like her to play forever, but she is 33 years old and, eventually, she’ll hang up her skates. When that day comes, and even now, Montreal needs to have a backup plan, preferably one that doesn’t rely on a single player. World Championships’ standout for Sweden, Lina Ljungblom, will join the team next season, but she won’t be able to do everything herself.

Cheverie Is a Hit in Quebec

As always, Cheverie was in a great mood after the win. When asked, “Are you aware that Toronto lost?” She immediately answered, “Yeah, I’ve heard that. That’s nice. For us! Statistically speaking, it’s just factual.”

The Montreal press and fans have taken to Cheverie. Commenting on the improvement of her French, she explained, Yeah, it’s been like a lot of work, and I think everyone likes me now which is nice [laughs]. You know, I’m not that mean, so it does feel nice because of the amount of work I’ve put in and tried to put in, and it’s been a lot. It’s like every game day you think of a gameplan to beat a hockey team, and you also think of a gameplan to come in front of you all, and speak in French and so, it’s been hard. But the last little bit, you know, going in front of RDS on the camera and doing that, I think that’s something I’ve done my whole life. It’s just being vulnerable, and putting myself in situations where I can grow and the feedback that I’ve received, it’s encouraging. That’s something that I want to continue, and continue to be great at it. You know, I’ve started watching a show in French and I’m telling myself: “Oh my god, I hope one day I’ll understand what they’re saying!”. Yeah, it’s Survivor Quebec [more laughs]”.

PWHL Montreal’s head coach Kori Cheverie (Credit Alex D’Addese / Ryerson Athletics)

Cheverie has charmed the whole province with the work she’s put in to learn French, but she still has a lot of work to do on the hockey front. Solving the two issues highlighted here could go a long way toward saying mission accomplished. Montreal’s next game is on Saturday at the Bell Centre for what promises to be an all-time attendance record. On the grandest stage of them all, Montreal will try to beat Toronto for the first time this season and, perhaps, retake the lead in the standings in the game that has aptly been christened the “Duel at the Top”.


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