PWHL Toronto bounces back with aggressive first win

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There was a quiet confidence around the Ford Performance Centre and the women of PWHL Toronto this week following a disappointing loss in their home opener.

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To a player, coach Troy Ryan’s roster was adamant that the New Year’s Day loss in the first game in the PWHL was not indicative of what they were capable and promised a better showing in the return match last night in Bridgeport with PWHL New York.

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Each and every one of them kept that promise.

Emma Maltais, who gave the Toronto crowd something to cheer about late in the opening loss with a couple of thunderous hits got the game-winner on the penalty kill midway through the third and was named the first star in Toronto 3-2 win.

Maltais was all over the ice in this one, racking up five shots while pestering New York skaters.

Jesse Compher, promoted to the top line for this one but killing a penalty with Maltais, came down her off wing and with a lane to the net put a nice hard, low shot on New York netminder Abby Levy. Levy was able to make the stop but could not control the rebound, which went right to a driving Maltais, for the first short-handed goal in league history.

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Chances are short-handed goals are going to come often this first season as the league has incentivized offensive penalty kills with a rule change that sees a team scoring short handed returning to full strength as well following a goal.

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Ryan and his team worked on that at the league-wide pre-season training camp in Utica last month and it paid off last night.

The Maltais short-handed goal came just minutes after a New York goal, which would have put them ahead, was disallowed as officials ruled the whistle had been blown before the puck snuck under Campbell in the Toronto net.

If there is an area of improvement Toronto can still look to make it is in how it starts games.

For the second game in a row it took a full period before the real Toronto talent started to show itself.

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It was barely outshot in the first frame 10-9 but struggled breaking out of its own zone, meaning most of the play was in the Toronto end that first period.

Second periods though have been Toronto’s strong suit and was again Friday night as it outshot New York 17-8 in the middle frame and had to be disappointed to head to the third tied after dominating the play so thoroughly.

A crowd of 2,152 took in the game at Total Mortgage Arena in Bridgeport, Conn, home to the AHL farm team of the New York Islanders.

Natalie Spooner will go down in history as Toronto’s first goal scorer and it was exactly the kind of play that Ryan was lamenting he didn’t see enough of in the opener.

With a Toronto power play about to expire early in the second period, Spooner drove hard toward the net following up her own shot and swatted home her own rebound with captain Blayre Turnbull right there beside her looking for the same chance.

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That got Toronto back on even terms following a bit of a lacklustre and even unlucky first period.

Unlucky because the opening goal of the game by Abby Rocque came after Toronto defender Renata Fast got held up along the boards as she collided with one of the on-ice officials. It kept Fast from getting back in front where Rocque was left unattended to punch in the game’s first goal.

Spooner’s marker, though, seemed to take a weight off Toronto collectively and they spent the first 17 minutes of that second period in complete control of the game.

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Just over four minutes after Spooner’s marker, Alexa Vasko followed the exact same script give Toronto it’s first ever PWHL lead.

Off a face off and a quick shot from Rebecca Leslie, Alexa Vasko went hard to the net and beat Abby Levy with another second-chance opportunity off the initial save.

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Ryan had been saying all week his group was probably not going to be one of those teams that score a ton of pretty goals and had to rely on getting some of the greasier ones. Going into those well-defended areas around the goalie’s crease and paying the price if need be was the advice and his charges heeded it.

Toronto goalie Kristen Campbell gave up four goals in the opening game loss, but rebounded nicely in Game 2 of the season with a number of huge saves with the New York squad pressing.

None were bigger than three successive saves on about 11 minutes into the game as New York appeared posed to double their advantage.

Campbell went post-to-post-to-post to deny three quality chances and keep the deficit to just one.

New York would not get one by here again until the final couple of minutes in the second. Having just killed off a penalty, Toronto looked to be in good shape to finish the second with a one-goal lead but New York sniper Alex Carpenter had other ideas.

For one of the few times in the period, New York gained the offensive zone with numbers and put some pressure on Campbell. After two initial stops, the puck found its way to Carpenter who was alone in the high slot and her one-timer beat Campbell high to tie the game at 2.

Toronto will head home for a practice Monday with their record even at 1-1 now before heading back out on the road next Wednesday when they will take on Minnesota.

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