If teams are judged by how they come back from adversity, Les Canadiennes de Montreal definitely look and feel like a team that is a perennial Clarkson Cup contender.
Les Canadiennes's only loss came November 15 against the Calgary Inferno in a back-and-forth 5-4 loss. Les Canadiennes fell behind 1-0, took a 2-1 lead and then tried to fight back from 4-2 and 5-3 deficits. It was an exciting game and one that was perhaps more one-sided then you would think.
Montreal and Calgary were presumed to be the two best CWHL teams, a presumption that has been proven true. But the close 5-4 loss saw the shots 39-23 in favour of Montreal. Calgary only had two shots in the first period but scored on their first shot 10:21 into the game.
"I wasn’t very happy with how it went," Canadiennes goaltender Charline Labonté said. "Usually if my players score three goals I feel it’s my job to keep it so that we can win and I was just not happy with my performance. And I had to have a little talk with myself and I had to readjust a couple of things."
Labonté may have taken some of the blame onto herself, but her teammates also adjusted.
"Calgary’s a great team and I think the part of that game that was a wake up call is that we can’t take mental lapses in the defensive zone," said Canadiennes defender Julie Chu. "When you’re giving up five goals in a game it doesn’t feel good so we want to be better than that."
And better then that they were. Less than 15 hours after the final buzzer, they were back on the ice and this time they won 5-0, again allowing only 23 shots to the Inferno. But this time, Labonté was perfect.
"The only place that we didn’t dominate that first game was on the scoreboard," said Canadiennes head coach Dany Brunet. "Unfortunately, that just happens to be the most important part. In terms of everything else, shots, scoring chances, we were better so it was a bit misleading. We didn't change anything."
Playing for a team that includes a first line of Marie-Philip Poulin, Caroline Ouellette and Ann-Sophie Bettez sounds like a dream, but it's not always the case for Labonté. She is facing only 18.7 shots per 60 minutes (she had one relief appearance in the only game she did not start as the starter, Sydney Aveson, had equipment issues).
"They are so amazing and everyone is doing a really good job so it means that I get less shots and whenever I do get shots whether it’s a breakaway or two-on-one, I need to do my job," Labonté said. "I had to readjust and it went a little better."
"It’s hard for me," she said. "I need to readjust my game. I prefer to get 30 shots a game so when I get 15 or 20, it’s tough as a goalie to adjust to that kind of game."
In university, Labonté had a similar experience at McGill University. The team would regularly allow single-digit shots on goal. The only difference is that Natalie Spooner and Jessica Campbell weren't the kind of shooters she was facing.
"My beginning at McGill was so hard because you’re not used to it. It’s easy to get out of the zone when you're not busy over 60 minutes. My years at McGill are helping me deal with this situation of playing for an amazing team."
Immediately following the loss, Labonté went almost two full games without allowing a goal. Only Carolyne Prevost's marker in the final minute this past Saturday broke the streak. They won the next day as well, showing no effects from their first loss of the season.
Early on, it looks like that first place may be decided by the six game round robin between Montreal and Calgary. Both of their only losses came to each other. Just don't expect the players to expect wins the rest of the way.
"We’ve had a really good start to the season but we’ve had tight games so you can’t really take anything for granted," Labonté said. "As soon as you slow down, they can pick up their pace and capitalize on their opportunities."