Hitman Higgins is back on song, warns Walser
Derrick Walser has put the Elite League on alert by claiming that Chris Higgins is just about to hit his best form. And with tonight's clash with Elite League leaders the Cardiff Devils at the SSE Arena coming at the start of a busy six-game run in 12 nights, his timing couldn't have been any better for the Belfast Giants.
After two months out injured Higgins marked his comeback with a goal against the Fife Flyers in a Challenge Cup meeting a month ago.
It was the 29-year-old's goal in Sunday night's 3-1 win against the Edinburgh Capitals, however, that announced to player-coach Walser that his star forward is back.
"When a players is out for the length of time that Chris Higgins was missing you expect they will plateau after a little while," said Walser.
"He came out hard in the first few games of his comeback and then tailed off, but I think the tail off is done now and he's back to being the player we know he can be - or at least close to it.
"He missed a lot of work in practice early in the season when I was getting our systems nailed down and it takes a while to pick that up.
"He's getting there now and we are seeing that in his game."
It isn't just Higgins' own performances that his getting up to speed is impacting on.
Walser has already spotted an improvement in others thanks to having the goal-scoring winger back on the ice.
"Chris is a tough guy for defences to get hold of because he is slippery on the puck and he puts defences on their heels," he said.
"Other players don't know if he is going to pass or go by them and we have missed that in our team.
"There has been a step up in Mike Forney's play since he came back too and he gives us an addition weapon in the forwards."
The Giants go into tonight's game having taken full advantage of the Devils' defeat at the hands of Braehead Clan on Sunday night to cut their lead at the top of the Elite League table to six points.
Walser's men have played three games less and are in a position where victory tonight and in those games in hand would see them overhaul Cardiff and move clear at the top.
That, however, depends on the Giants passing what Walser describes as a 'test' this evening.
"I like the way that we are shaping up, but we have played three less games and I would like to see where we are when he catch up," said Walser.
"We are going into this game in good shape because we had a good weekend in Edinburgh and I think that we played well in both games.
"I might have taken us a while to find the net on Sunday, but I thought that we played very well.
"This will be a test for us against Cardiff because it is a home game and we have played better on the road of late.
"We need to take advantage of our home ice.
"We have almost a full roster and Cardiff will see a different team than when he last played them."
Giants defenceman Mitch Ganzak is the subject of a disciplinary review after an incident in Edinburgh, but Walser doesn't anticipate the player receiving a suspension.
The Giants will get into the festive mood tonight when the team wear specially designed red jerseys with a Christmas jumper theme.
Meanwhile the Giants' non-British players will be in action while their team mates try to take Great Britain a step closer to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
When the GB team is Cortina, Italy, facing the Netherlands and Serbia, as well as their Italian hosts, in an Olympic qualifying event, club side SG Cortina will be in Belfast to play two exhibition games against the Giants on Friday, February 12 and Saturday, February 13.