Walser says Giants can power ahead in title race
Derrick Walser believes that his Belfast Giants team can get even better, thanks to the luxury of having practice on the ice.
Already in red-hot form after winning 10 of their last 11 Elite League games - eight of them in a row - the rest of the title challengers will have to be on their guard as Walser strives for further improvement.
And his desire to get more out of his players will be helped by a less hectic fixture schedule. One that is much more conducive with a title race.
Twelve games in 24 days through December and into January meant little or no preparation between games, but that didn't harm the Giants as they cut the Cardiff Devils' lead at the top of the Elite League table from 11 points to just four.
Ahead of a huge double header against defending champions the Sheffield Steelers at the SSE Arena this weekend (face-off 7pm tonight and 4pm tomorrow) Walser has been eyeing up opportunities to get more goals.
"The powerplay came through with a big goal for us against Coventry that was important in us going on to win," said Walser.
"We haven't had a lot of time to practice these things so we've spent a lot of time this week working on powerplay and special teams."
The powerplay does need some work as statistically the Giants are ranked ninth in the league, but on the penalty kill they are second.
The Giants' run has shaken up the title battle and the Steelers are still very much in the mix too, being six points behind the Giants with three games in hand.
The picture could change quickly within the next week.
Cardiff face Coventry Blaze and Braehead Clan this weekend before what will be a much-anticipated battle between the top two in Wales next weekend, while the Steelers play one of their games in hand next Wednesday against the Edinburgh Capitals.
The challenge for the Giants is to match their recent run through the second half of the season and Walser is relishing the battle.
"We're right there. I am extremely happy with how the guys have played pretty much the whole year," said Walser.
"You can't win them all. That's the sad thing about hockey - it's very rare you are going to see anybody go clean all the way through. The work ethic is there, the compete is there, now it's just getting rest and getting ready for the final big 20 games."
Walser is expected to return to the line-up to face the Steelers after he gave himself the night off when the Giants beat Coventry Blaze on Monday.
Stephen Murphy was the starting goaltender in that game and Walser has the luxury of knowing he can also rely on Jackson Whistle in the big matches after be produced an outstanding performance in the 2-1 win over the Steelers in Belfast a month ago.
Murphy currently just edges out his Sheffield rival Ervins Mustukovs as statistically the league's top performing goaltender, conceding an average of 2.19 goals per game, compared to 2.3 for the Steelers man.