Walser: We'll make big strides if we show character
Derrick Walser wants the Belfast Giants to add character to their ability in order to put right a record that has seen them clinch just one overtime win in their three Elite League outings so far.
Player-coach Walser was left frustrated last weekend when a crazy 10 minutes robbed his team of at least a point after putting in a solid performance against the Sheffield Steelers.
Somehow from being tied at 1-1 midway through the third period, the Giants lost 5-1 after the Steelers hit them with a four-goal blast in 10 minutes.
That disappointing defeat came just 24 hours after an impressive 5-1 home victory against Braehead Clan in the Challenge Cup - a competition in which the Giants have won their last six matches.
Now Walser is demanding that Cup form is transferred into the league with an away double-header against Coventry Blaze and the Nottingham Panthers this weekend, but he will have to do so without David Rutherford and Alex Foster because of injuries.
"We have to find a way to get a win," said Walser.
"We have played well enough to get more points than we've got, we have done well in the Challenge Cup, but we haven't got any wins in the regular season.
"We're banged up. You talk about character in a team, we have to go there and have a character weekend and try to find a way to get some points on the board."
Walser is in no doubt as to the quality that his team possess and they will go to Coventry with the memory of an overtime victory in their opening Elite League game of the season still fresh in their memory.
They haven't been outplayed this season, but have been outscored in the league, losing 3-2 in overtime to the Cardiff Devils before the defeat in Sheffield and now it's about points rather than performance as he is aware that letting too many points slip away at this stage could leave them with too much work to do over the next five months.
"We played 110 minutes of great hockey last weekend and then we had a collapse in Sheffield for 10 minutes," said Walser.
"It wasn't a 5-1 game - I know it wasn't a 5-1 game, but we had a 10-minute collapse. Too bad those bad minutes didn't spread out over the 120.
"You don't want to lose the league in the first month so we have to find a way to scrape out some points this weekend."
The injuries to Rutherford and Foster will force a reshuffle, but the tweaks that Walser will have to make to his line-up shouldn't upset things too much.
Mark Garside has been converted into a defenceman by Walser, but he has played as a forward for many years so should be able to make a seamless transition while at the same time leaving plenty of quality and experience on the blueline, where Jeff Mason, Mike Quesnele, Jim Vandermeer, Matt Nickerson and Ryan Martinelli will line up alongside Walser.
There is no doubting the ability among the forwards either. In three league games so far, Chris Higgins has provided assists on three goals, while Mike Forney has knocked in two.
"Mark Garside will play up front this weekend," the coach confirmed.
Two of Sheffield's four goals in that eight-minute scoring spree last Sunday evening came on powerplays.
That is something that Walser is keen to avoid a repeat of this weekend and he has been putting things in place during training this week.
"Right now we are focusing on our penalty kill, it's not up to par yet," he said.
"I have been watching videos and trying to come up with a better game plan.
"We seem to be in a pretty good position, it's just a matter of stress points and we've got to clarify that.
"One other thing I would like to work on is the lengths of our shifts, we are staying out there too long and it's wearing us down.
"You can see sometimes in the third period we've run out of gas and I think that's down to shift length."
Walser is expected to split playing time for his goaltenders once again this weekend.
Stephen Murphy faced the Braehead Clan last Saturday night before Jackson Whistle lined up against Sheffield on Sunday and with the job-share arrangement set to continue for at least the time being, whoever is on the ice in Coventry tonight can expect to make way tomorrow in Nottingham.