Belfast Giants find two ways to play as unbeaten run extends against Herning
Belfast Giants 5-1 Herning Blue Fox
Against Mora, the Belfast Giants were clinical and clicking all over the ice. Against Herning, they needed to find another way to win.
For 50 minutes, they found it, battling penalty trouble and some ring-rustiness to hold a 2-1 lead midway through the third. Then they clicked back into gear.
Patryk Wronka was every bit the electric player the Giants expected him to be, putting himself in exactly the right place to deflect in Jordan Smotherman's tape-to-tape pass before showing supreme vision to lay one on a plate for Ben Lake.
Smotherman himself was on top form too, sniping top shelf midway through the third period for his second goal of pre-season before drilling the puck onto Wronka's stick for the fourth.
Backed by netminder Stephen Murphy, who made 20 saves in a superb performance deputising for Shane Owen, the Giants knew they were always in control of the game, they simply had to turn it on when they needed it most.
And with that, the previous 50 minutes were consigned to history. In the last ten minutes, the Giants provided their third warning that this team will be one to watch.
"We played quite well," said head coach Adam Keefe. "We weren't quite skating as well as we did last week, we weren't as crisp, but considering all the penalties we did great on the kill.
"Still some things to work out on the kill but certainly we got enough work tonight."
Once again, more positives than work-ons come to the fore with every passing shift for Belfast. On this occasion, they hit the five-goal mark while at the same time running a penalty kill that went 8-for-9 on a penalty ridden night.
The discipline needs improved, for sure. Teams in the Champions League, and in the upper echelons of the Elite League, will punish them a man down like Herning didn't. But, at the same time, the special teams came to the fore again.
They blocked shots across the ice, with Kevin Raine and Matt Pelech leading the way. Even in the moments where Herning worked 5-on-3 opportunities, the Giants looked comfortable, even if the Danes' only goal came with the two-man advantage.
"At times we weren't moving our feet enough, we took a few sticking penalties, myself included, and we just didn't have our legs today," said Lake.
"Pretty scrappy game, going into the third we were just trying to stay out of the penalty box and get some momentum going. Towards the last half of the third we turned it on and showed what we're capable of."
At the other end, in terms of goal scoring, Lake has three in as many games and Smotherman has two after their tallies against Herning, while Wronka getting on the scoresheet for the first time had the crowd purring.
Given that most of the off-season talk was dominated by who would replace the goal scoring of Darcy Murphy, Blair Riley and Patrick Dwyer, that trio has certainly answered the questions and then some.
Speaking of Wronka, he finally got the reward for his hard graft. While his incredible coast-to-coast slalom against Mora only resulted in him hitting the post with his shot, this time he finally got stats behind his wizardry.
His positional awareness to be at the back door to knock in Smotherman's pass was perfection, and his ability to spot the supporting line of Lake and play the pass for the tap-in rather than shoot was selfless.
"He's been a dynamic player for us, so it's nice to see him get on the board with a couple of points and get rewarded for that," added Keefe.
"If I'd been in that position I'd have been shooting that and even on the bench I was yelling 'Shoot that'! You can't tell playmakers what to do, that's called vision, something I lacked!
"I won't be telling him when or when not to shoot, he's got the intelligence to make that call himself."
Perhaps most pleasing is that the Giants are continuing their trend of delivering on all the promises of the off-season.
The powerplay is dangerous, even if it went unrewarded. The penalty kill is watertight. Wronka is a handful. Pelech is an enforcer on the blue-line. Liam Reddox always looks like he can create something.
But even beyond that players are impressing. Liam Morgan is a workhorse and was rewarded with his first professional goal. Jesse Forsberg is not fun for opposing players in the offensive zone. Jean Dupuy has energy and Bobby Farnham plays with grit.
Put it all together and there's the framework of a team that can do plenty of damage.
Game two: Saturday (7pm)
Having switched up the lines a bit in Friday's win, head coach Keefe admitted that they hadn't quite clicked as much as they would have liked, despite the scoreline.
While the Wronka-Farnham-Lake line looked to have some real chemistry, the other lines never quite found their feet to the extent that Keefe reverted the lines back to how they were for the wins over Mora.
"We changed them during the week and I thought we were decent on the puck but we weren't creating enough, so I went back to the lines we had last weekend and we were a bit more comfortable there," said Keefe.
"We'll see how we progress tomorrow and then see if we need to make changes throughout the week. Guys are still getting used to each other so we won't ride the highs or the lows, we'll try and find the combinations."
That means the line of Liam Reddox, Brian Ward and Jordan Smotherman will once again take top billing, backed by Wronka-Farnham-Lake on what can be considered the 1b line rather than second.
Ciaran Long, Jean Dupuy and Curtis Hamilton will follow on the third line, while Liam Morgan, Mark Garside and Lewis Hook will form a settled fourth line trio.
Shane Owen looks likely to get the start in nets having been rested for Friday's victory as the Giants look to ease him into Thursday's game against Bili Tygri Liberec.
"We want to have a real solid game tomorrow all round," added Keefe. "We want to tighten up our discipline and not take that many penalties because if we do that in the Champions League then that'll hurt us."
Belfast Telegraph Digital