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Belfast Giants can't overcome penalty problems, fall to road defeat in Sheffield

Sheffield Steelers 4-1 Belfast Giants

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The Sheffield Steelers celebrate scoring against the Belfast Giants

The Sheffield Steelers celebrate scoring against the Belfast Giants

The Sheffield Steelers celebrate scoring against the Belfast Giants

Having hailed his side's penalty killing in Saturday's win over the Glasgow Clan, it almost seemed like fate that Adam Keefe would be left to curse the Belfast Giants' indiscipline a day later.

In total, the Giants took seven minor penalties and a major penalty in conceding three powerplay goals to fall to a 4-1 defeat at the Sheffield Steelers, losing further ground in the Elite League title race.

The gap between Belfast and the Steelers is now nine points and, although that isn't insurmountable - especially given the Giants do have two games in hand on their rivals still - it's already looking like a tall order for them to scale this back.

At 21-13-2 on the season, it's another one-win weekend for Keefe's men, and while this one perhaps isn't as bad as previous weekends given the calibre of opposition, it's another chance to claw back the deficit at the top that has passed them by without so much as a whimper.

In truth, the Giants never helped themselves, unable to gather any kind of meaningful momentum due to repeatedly being on the penalty kill and also being down a man as well.

Captain Matt Pelech made sure of that, ejected at the tail end of the first period by taking a 5+game penalty for a check to the neck of Marek Troncinsky, putting Belfast on the back foot, and it was on the five-minute major that Sheffield got their game-winner.

It was Tanner Eberle who got it, the Steelers forward working some space for himself in the left circle and rattling one in and back out off the back bar at 15:15 of the opening period for what would prove the decisive strike to make it 2-1 at the time.

The penalty kill was a disappointing 5-for-8 on the night, reflecting both the indiscipline and the toll that it took on the Giants' fatigued special teams, with Troncinsky's opener and Michael Davies' third for the Steelers also coming on the powerplay.

Troncinsky had put the hosts ahead at just 2:13 when Belfast took a too many men call, the forward depositing a rebound off his own shot for 1-0, with Davies adding some insurance at 17:28 of the middle frame with a well-taken one-timer from the left circle.

Ironically, the Giants themselves had drawn level at 8:35 on their own powerplay - Lucas Sandstrom in the box for slashing - when Jordan Smotherman ripped one in from the high slot to at that time make it 1-1, but that was as good as it was ever to get for the visitors.

They were never able to capitalise on a couple of powerplays in the first, Davies (cross-checking) and Eberle (elbowing) both sitting on separate occasions, but it was early in the second period that their best chance came.

Earning a 25-second 5-on-3 powerplay with John Armstrong (roughing) and Janne Kolehmainen (slashing) in the box, the puck found its way to Smotherman on the angle but he fired straight at Steelers netminder Tomas Duba, who made 22 saves, with the goal gaping.

At 3-1 down, they had chances to make it a tight game too, with Elgin Pearce and Bobby Farnham gifted a two-on-one late on, only for the former to miss the cage entirely after the latter's feed.

And that allowed James Bettauer, the Sheffield defenceman filling in on the wing, to round off the scoring with an empty-netter with 1:56 remaining, netminder Shane Owen - 25 saves - pulled for the extra skater and the Steelers man sliding the puck the length of the ice.

But this is another game where the Giants will feel they never gave themselves a real chance at winning, with their outrageous penalty count ensuring they were rarely on an even footing in the game.

Six of their seven minor penalties and Pelech's major came while they were trailing, and while the penalty kill did operate well for the majority of the game, the weight of being shorthanded for so long ultimately left them with too much to do.

Nine points isn't game over, last season's incredible comeback alone is testament to that. But right now, this Giants team doesn't have the aura of one that could claw back that gap, unless they can get things sorted quickly.

They return to action at the SSE Arena on Saturday night against the Glasgow Clan (7pm) for their 'You Can Play' night.

Belfast Telegraph