A 1-2 start to the PWHL campaign was certainly not the goal, but everyone involved knew there would be growing pains, even for a team as obviously talented as the Toronto entry.
Head coach Troy Ryan remains fully confident he has the personnel to compete at the highest level of this new league, even in the wake of a tough 3-1 loss to the undefeated Minnesota entry on Wednesday night.
The reason for that confidence in the face of a tough couple of games lacking in offence from a Toronto standpoint is that in each game they have wildly dominated at least one of the three periods in the game.
In the opener, a loss to New York, it was a dominant second period in which Toronto carried the play but failed to beat Corinne Schroeder.
In the second game — a rematch of the first, but on U.S. ice — Toronto again dominated the second period but only managed to come out of that frame tied before winning it with a shorthanded goal in the third.
In the third game on Wednesday in St. Paul, Minn., Toronto dominated the play for the majority of the first period and still came into the second trailing 1-0 on their way to that 3-1 loss.
Three games, a stretch of dominance in each, but so far unable to extend that.
Any momentum Toronto had established in that first period in Minnesota ended abruptly after back-to-back penalty kills by the home side.
Toronto established itself in the Minnesota end for both power plays but seemed content to work the puck around the periphery which Minnesota was all too happy to allow as long as the puck stayed out on the perimeter, which it did for the majority of both advantages in that first period.
Ryan understands even a highly successful power play scores on about one-quarter of its opportunities so it wasn’t even that his team didn’t score, it was that they barely threatened, giving Minnesota confidence while sapping his own team of the confidence they had built up playing 5-on-5.
“I don’t necessarily get too stressed if we are not scoring (on the power play),” Ryan said. “We just didn’t keep momentum with those power plays.”
For Ryan, the game took a real turn from that point on. Taylor Heise would score the opener late in the first for Minnesota. Toronto rallied for the equalizer with a strong start to the second but couldn’t maintain that stretch as Heise snuck in behind the defence to restore the Minnesota lead later in the period.
While acknowledging the power play is not where it has to be just yet, Ryan does not sound totally surprised by the fact it hasn’t been great right out of the gate.
“For one, we have players who are — I mean even the national team players, they don’t play power-play minutes a lot,” Ryan said. “So, there’s a little bit of needing reps and a learning curve to get used to some of the timing. I’m confident that will come in time.”
Sarah Nurse, who sees work on the national team power play, is learning a new spot on the Toronto power play, different than the one she plays with the national team. She, like a handful of her teammates, just need reps to get comfortable.
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So far, the Toronto power play has been a struggle. They have just one goal to show for the 11 power plays. Ryan is prepared to give his power-play personnel some time to adapt to things. He doesn’t anticipate any radical changes to his power-play personnel, which appears to include Nurse, Renata Fast, Natalie Spooner, Emma Maltais, Maggie Connors, Blayre Turnbull and Kali Flanagan.
“We’ll still play around with (personnel) a little bit, but it sort of is what it is,” Ryan said. “We only have a number of players that I think have the skill to be able to play on the power play. It’s going to take some time and, of course, the mentality, too.”
One addition Ryan will make to the power play in the coming weeks will be the introduction of Victoria Bach to one of his two units.
Bach isn’t eligible play in games until Feb. 1 but she has been practising with the team for the bulk of January.
Bach sounds like she’ll be a nice add for Ryan when that time comes.
“Without a doubt. She is a natural there, for sure,” Ryan said. “When she is ready and back with us, it’s important for us to just find a good spot for her where she can be productive. But yeah, she’s a natural on the power play.”
Toronto won’t have a long time to dwell on the loss in Minnesota. They are back on the ice early Saturday afternoon for a 1 p.m. puck-drop at the Mattamy Athletic Centre where they will host Ottawa.