Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Giants pay penalty in Steelers shoot-out

By Staurt McKinley

Saturday night’s penalty shoot-out defeat at the hands of the Sheffield Steelers cost the Belfast Giants more than just a point.

Instead of enjoying a relaxing lie-in, coach Doug Christiansen cancelled their day off and the players found themselves on the ice this morning, with a gym session to follow in the afternoon.

It’s safe to say that there will be plenty of time spent trying to improve his team’s powerplay this week, having seen six opportunities to capitalise on having a one-man advantage on the Steelers — and a full two minutes when they’d two more players on the ice — come and go without a goal being scored.

While obviously unhappy with that statistic and his team’s execution of powerplays, Christiansen won’t allow himself to be dragged down by one aspect of his team’s play.

“We had scoring chances on our powerplays, but we couldn’t convert them and the powerplay was the weakest part of our game,” said Christiansen.

“Our penalty kill — although we conceded a goal while we were on the kill — was excellent.

“Our powerplay must be better, but some fans think that we should be scoring on every powerplay we have.

“The facts are that even the best team in the league last season failed 77 per cent of the time.

“I’d be happy with 23 per cent success.”

The Steelers made full use of their first powerplay of the game to opening the scoring as early as the fifth minute. Derek LeBlanc was sitting a hooking penalty when Matt Stephenson smacked the puck past Stephen Murphy.

The Giants were dominant late in the first period and throughout the vast majority of the second — when most of the powerplays, including the five-on-three, came their way.

The equalising goal just wouldn’t come — at that stage anyway — and there was one simple reason for that.

In the build-up to the game Christiansen had labelled Steelers goaltender John DeCaro as ‘probably the best import goalie in the league’ and to his cost the 6ft 2ins American proved the Giants coach right.

“He’s a very good goalie,” said Christiansen.

“He’s a big man and he made big saves. Two or three of them were exceptional.

“Stephen Murphy made some excellent saves too and when a game finishes 1-1 after overtime you know that the goalies have played well.”

It wasn’t until nine minutes from the end that the Giants finally broke DeCaro’s stubborn resistance.

The Giants’ big summer signing, last season’s Elite League leading goalscorer Jon Pelle, sat out Saturday night’s game and will be out until at least the end of September.

Without him the rest of the newly acquired imports failed to deliver, so it was left to two of last season’s returning Brit pack to come up with the goods.

Craig Peacock turned the puck to Mark Garside and after a summer spent recovering from surgery on a dislocated shoulder he fired home.

DeCaro was the Giants nemesis when the penalty shoot-out came around after a scoreless overtime period, with Jeff Mason and LeBlanc both failing to score.

Mike Ramsay had already netted for the Steelers and when Steve Birnstill scored there was no need for the Giants to take their third shot.

Christiansen doesn’t expect to see the best of his team for maybe another three weeks — or possibly longer.

“In north America teams have half a dozen pre-season games to get themselves together,” said Christiansen.

“We had two and it’ll take time for the team to blend.

“If we get to October and we’re in first place or a game off first we’ll be in pretty good shape.

“I knew when we had Sheffield up first, an away game in Cardiff and Nottingham at home in the first month that it would be tough. Without Jon Pelle it’s even harder. He has high expectations of himself and we have high expectations of him too, but we’re used to having players injured after last season.

“If we learn the lessons from those games we’ll get better.

“Trying to gel so many new faces isn’t easy, but achieving the goals that we have set for ourselves is still possible.”

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