Missing the best player in women’s hockey is not an easy task, especially entering a playoff series against the defending champions.
Canadiennes coach Caroline Ouellette said after the first game of the series that they needed everybody to be a little better without Marie-Philip Poulin. Their depth finally paid off.
Hilary Knight’s first full season with Montreal started off with a bang, getting an assist in the opening game of the season. Due to injuries, her linemates would change on a regular basis but ever since the team returned from their Christmas break, Knight has steadily raised her game. In the series win against the Markham Thunder, she was downright dominant.
“The puck for some reason hadn’t been going in as much as it should for her and it’s awesome that it’s happening right now,” said Emerance Maschmeyer.
Knight has four goals and four assists through the three playoff games. Other than Knight, only Jill Saulnier, her linemate, has more than four points (she has five) this postseason (every team has played three games). Needless to say, Knight has a three point edge in the CWHL playoff scoring race. The top point-getters on the Calgary Inferno, their opponent in the Clarkson Cup, have two.
It wasn’t even the points. She stepped up and was dominant every time she was on the ice.
“Knight took her game to another level,” said Ouellette. “She’s got it all. She’s strong, she’s powerful, she’s smart, she can shoot the puck and she was just dominant the whole series.”
“A lot of us, knowing what happened last year didn’t want to stay home for this journey,” said Knight. “Now we’re headed to Toronto.”
While Poulin’s absence was expected going into the series, Erin Ambrose’s was not. Ambrose was hit in the head from behind and left game one after the first period and did not return. That meant two-time Olympian Lauriane Rougeau’s list of responsibilities - already large - became larger.
Rougeau and rookie Catherine Daoust were already tasked with facing the Thunder’s top line. But now Rougeau also had to play on the top power play unit, and with the veterans on defence low, she played more than she was off the ice.
“I look at what she does and follow her and use her to adjust,” said Catherine Daoust. “I take my example from her and she supports me with everything I do on the ice.”
It made the decision to leave Rougeau completely out of the Canadian national team picture all year even stranger. Rougeau was the best defender in the series. I’d argue she should be a nominee for defender of the year in the CWHL as well. The fact she’s not in the national team picture is borderline criminal.
“That’s the best that I’ve seen Lauriane Rougeau play,” Caroline Ouellette said. “She really stepped up from the start of the playoffs she’s been a force for us.”
Les Canadiennes’ depth has been heralded all season and when they had to, Montreal’s stars stepped up for those who weren’t in the lineup.