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Geneviève Lacasse returns as Les Canadiennes split series with Shenzhen

With three points out of four, Montreal closes gap on first place Calgary.

Shanna Martin / CWHL

Before Sunday’s game between Les Canadiennes and the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays, Geneviève Lacasse stepped onto the ice at the Michel Normandin Arena and prepared for her first start in a game in almost exactly 11 months. When it ended, she was named the game’s first star after making 18 saves in a 4-0 shutout win.

“It feels awesome,” Lacasse said. “It’s just nice to be back playing. I’ve been watching for a while so it was just great to be on the ice with the girls.”

It was Lacasse’s first start - and game action - since February 14, 2018 when she made 44 saves en route to a 2-1 win over the United States in the Olympics.

“She’s a huge part of this team,” said Canadiennes coach Caroline Ouellette. “She’s a great leader, she’s vocal, she’s confident, she brings a lot of energy. She’s worked really hard to get back in the game and to see her do well, get a shut out, it’s going to be huge for her confidence.”

On Saturday, Lacasse was the backup, dressed for the first time this season after suffering a lower-body injury over the summer. Saturday’s wild affair saw four goals in the final 5:15 of the third period, leading to a 4-3 Shenzhen win in a shootout.

Saturday: L 4-3 (SO)

Hanna Bunton and Alex Carpenter scored in the shootout as Shenzhen beat Les Canadiennes after coming back from three one-goal deficits, including an empty net goal with just 34 seconds remaining in a wild third period.

“We expected them to come out strong. In China, they didn’t like us winning all three games,” said Canadiennes forward Katia Clement-Heydra. “They had two players [All Stars Rachel Llanes and Hannah Miller] that came back which gave them more offence as well. We didn’t have the start we wanted, we gave them hope and we weren’t able to play 60 minutes.”

Sarah Lefort opened the scoring for Montreal just 1:30 into the game when she tipped a Clement-Heydra pass past Noora Räty.

The teams would trade chances throughout the rest of the period, but the two best ones would be by Shenzhen. Leah Lum and Hanna Bunton would have great chances, but both of them missed the net wide of Emerance Maschmeyer.

Les Canadiennes would have a power play in the second period, and Räty came up big robbing Marie-Philip Poulin from the faceoff circle. Räty made a similar save on Karell Emard.

The Rays would keep pushing in the period. Alex Carpenter would ring the crossbar behind Maschmeyer, and just a few seconds later, Emma Woods would fire a wrist shot top corner past Maschmeyer to tie the game up at 1-1 with just 1:07 to go in the second period.

The game opened up with 5:15 left in the third when Clement-Heydra would drive to the net and the Hilary Knight pass would find its way behind Räty.

“Honestly all I was doing was driving the net,” Clement-Heydra said about her goal. “I don’t even know how it went in, I was just going.”

Just 31 seconds after Montreal made it 2-1, a Jessica Wong shot deflected off of Madison Woo, and Maschmeyer couldn’t see the puck as it went into the net.

The scoring would continue as less than two minutes after that, Poulin would score to make it 3-2 with a shot that was placed perfectly after a Jill Saulnier pass.

The Rays would tie the game once more as a bouncing puck hit off of Alex Carpenter and went in behind Maschmeyer with just 26 seconds left to force overtime.

After overtime, Hilary Knight opened the scoring in the shootout, and it came down to Shenzhen’s final shooter. Carpenter scored to extend it to a fourth round and Hanna Bunton scored after Ann-Sophie Bettez was stopped to win it.

Sunday: W 4-0

One day after losing a close game, the Canadiennes tried to get back on track and that’s what they did in their 4-0 win.

Shenzhen appeared to take an early lead just over four minutes into the game when a Baiwei Yu shot from the point beat Lacasse. However, the net was off its moorings and the goal was disallowed. The pegs at the Michel Normandin arena were an issue throughout the game as several whistles went because the net was off. Goaltenders at this high level use the posts often, and pegs usually used for community hockey games cannot withstand the pressure.

Montreal opened the scoring 6:29 into the game when Poulin tipped a Taylor Willard shot and then pounced on the rebound to beat Räty.

This time, Montreal was able to stop the Rays from responding. They played a great defensive hockey game, and limited Shenzhen to just 18 shots against.

“That was our first message,” said coach Caroline Ouellette. “We wanted to be better from puck drop. I think we frustrated them by playing good defensive hockey which we’ve really been harping on them to be better defensively and we’re starting to see the details that we’re asking them to do. The good news is that we played well for four out of six periods and we came away with three out of four points.”

Montreal’s defensive play seemed to frustrate the Rays, and the game was physical and included several questionable hits in the third period. Earlier in the game, an exchanging of punches led to Bettez getting 12 minutes in penalties (a two minute minor and a 10 minute misconduct) for contact to the head.

“We had to keep our emotions in check,” said Canadiennes defender Erin Ambrose about the Shenzhen hits going uncalled, including one where she was checked from behind into the boards. “It’s not easy to do but it’s something we need to do because we’re looking ahead. We had such a good game and and last thing we need is to have some tough call or something where we lose somebody for another game. It’s tough sometimes to just swallow your pride and take the punch or whatever it may be but sometimes you have to do that.”

Following a turnover in the offensive zone, Hilary Knight fired a puck past Räty to double the Montreal lead.

In the third period, Les Canadiennes would put the game out of reach with two goals in 1:40. Jill Saulnier would fire home her fifth goal of the season after a great pass from behind the net. The assist was credited to Lauriane Rougeau, but it appears to be Geneviève Bannon making the pass.

The fourth goal would be scored by Olivia Atkinson, who forced Räty into a turnover while she was handling the puck and jammed the puck in for her second goal of the year.

Notes & Thoughts

  • With Lacasse’s shutout, an incredible streak continued for Montreal. A Canadiennes goaltender not named Emerance Maschmeyer hasn’t allowed a goal since January 21, 2018, spanning four straight games. Marie-Soleil Deschênes has three straight shutouts in that span, and Lacasse has the one.
  • Rachel Llanes, who has been dealing with injuries for Shenzhen, appeared to leave Saturday’s game and did not dress on Sunday. She is supposed to be in the All-Star game on January 20, and it will be interesting if she’ll be able to take part.
  • Marie-Philip Poulin has now scored in 10 straight games. The CWHL record is 11, set by her former teammate and current coach Caroline Ouellette (stick tap to TrevorDown6 on Twitter).
  • The Toronto Furies defeated the Calgary Inferno 3-0 on Sunday after Calgary won on Saturday. With that result, Montreal is now two points behind the Inferno with one game in hand. The two teams face off February 2 and 3 at the Complexe Bell in Brossard and the top spot in the regular season may come down to those games.
  • Sophie Brault, Emma Martin were scratched for the two games. After missing both games last weekend, Taylor Willard returned for Les Canadiennes. Mélodie Daoust remains out with a knee injury.