Doug Christiansen is in no doubt that his Belfast Giants team has the ability to win the big games that will deliver a second successive Elite League title.
And despite losing 4-1 to the Sheffield Steelers on Saturday night, the Giants coach has hard evidence to point to in order to back up his claims that he has the players for the big occasion.
The Giants have won in both Nottingham and Sheffield this season — as well as beating both at the Odyssey — but Saturday’s loss and the pre-Christmas defeat against the Panthers have stopped them from moving to the top of the table.
All three teams — who occupy the top three places in the league — still have to face each other at least three times before the end of the season and Christiansen has no concerns that his team is good enough to win those key battles and hold on to their title.
“We beat Sheffield in Sheffield just before Christmas, so I’m not getting too upset about one loss to them,” said Christiansen.
“Nottingham and Sheffield are both very good teams, so there is no shame in losing to them, but we have won big games already this season — any time you win in Nottingham or Sheffield it’s a big two points.
“We have quality in our team, everyone here is here because they want to win a championship in Belfast and we have to translate that quality and hunger into the big games that we have to come during the rest of the season.
“We have to play Sheffield twice and Nottingham three times and when we play those games we have to take more points than they do.”
Sheffield’s win at the Odyssey came down to clinical finishing and a defence that swarmed all over the Giants almost every time they came within reach of goal.
Steven Goertzen and Jeff Legue — on the powerplay — struck in the second period and Ashley Tait made sure of the win early in the third. Although Daymen Rycroft pulled one back for the Giants there were only 76 seconds of the game left to play.
Christiansen did pull goaltender Stephen Murphy, but that only allowed Simon Ferguson to find the empty net 15 seconds from the end.
While the Giants registered 40 shots in the game, the quality of those efforts on goal wasn’t as good as it needed to be, especially with a goaltender of John DeCaro’s quality between the forwards and the net.
“We talked about it before the game, with DeCaro being a big goalie we can’t shoot right at him, but we need to be in a position to capitalise on rebounds,” said Christiansen.
“We did have some rebounds, but we didn’t make anything of them and it wasn’t until the third period that we started to show any urgency.”
And now with 22 games to go — 13 of them at home — Christiansen is demanding urgency from his players and an improvement in their play if they want to follow up on last season’s title success.
“We lost the game because the better team and the more hungry team won,” said Christiansen.
“We didn’t execute on our powerplays — and we had more than enough opportunities.
“When you have eight powerplays you should be scoring on at least one of them.
“Even when we have two five-on-threes — although one of them was only 30 seconds long — we still couldn’t score.
“Our powerplay had been good in the last couple of game, but it’s got to be better.
“If we are going to win the league it’s going to come down to how well our special teams do their jobs over the next three months and right now they need to improve.”