Belfast Giants get some festive cheer by bouncing back to winning ways at Fife Flyers
Fife Flyers 1-3 Belfast Giants
They may still be searching for that killer touch on offense, but the Belfast Giants chose their moments to strike perfectly in Kirkcaldy to get back to winning ways on Sunday night.
In what was then a one-goal game at the Fife Ice Arena, it was Jordan Smotherman who struck a hammer blow for the visitors, firing through Ben Lake's screen from the right circle and past Flyers goalie Adam Morrison for the game-winner just 1:55 into the third period to snap the Giants' brief two-game skid.
They were backed up by 21 saves from netminder Shane Owen, who didn't have the most taxing night between the pipes but won't mind that at all as he put in another strong display for the Giants in this excellent recent spell he's been having for the team.
"Very happy for him to play like that, especially since we let him down the last time we were here. He led from the back out and the rest of the guys followed," praised head coach Adam Keefe.
It was also a welcome return for the powerplay, which ran at a 2-for-5 clip and was integral to the Giants both taking and establishing their lead as they improved to 15-9-2 on the season, bouncing back from Saturday's 4-2 home loss to the Cardiff Devils.
It was with the man advantage they took the lead 8:03 into the second period after a scoreless first, and it was a maiden goal in teal for winger Elgin Pearce, who only joined the team on Friday but broke his duck in only his second game for the Giants when he tipped in Curtis Hamilton's slap pass at the back door for 1-0.
And the game was also settled on the man advantage when the same man this time turned provider, picking up the primary assist 5:02 into the final frame when he slung a pass to the crease that was tipped in past Morrison by Bobby Farnham for his 12th goal of the season.
It still wasn't a perfect offensive display from the Giants, who saw no shortage of chances pass them by in the first period before breaking the deadlock in the second, but on this occasion their tenacity and willingness to keep chipping away paid dividends.
Where the powerplay was strong, so was the penalty kill which, despite giving up the Flyers' only goal of the night, was again huge at 5-for-6, especially when killing off a full two-minute 5-on-3 with the Scottish side chasing the game just 22 seconds after the hosts had made it a 3-1 game.
"It was great. We started the game extremely well and did exactly what we wanted to do in terms of puck possession," said Keefe.
"Then we got our penalty kill in the second period, ran into some trouble, and Shane Owen came up big for us there. He was extremely big for us in the last ten minutes of the first period.
"We got in at the (second) period break up a goal and that was a big confidence booster for our team. From the second period on I thought we had a very solid game. Special teams, big kudos to them tonight."
They also dominated the physical exchanges too, with captain Matt Pelech dropping the gloves for the third time in five games, this time with Flyers defenceman Michal Gutwald in a rather one-sided fight in favour of the Belfast big man at the end of the middle frame.
The Swedish defenceman took exception to what was a high hit from the Giants skipper in neutral ice and pursued him to get the fight going, however it was Pelech who had the last laugh, landing several big haymakers in a one-sided fight that left the Flyers man cut and on the ice, a brutal reflection of how the game went as a whole.
And that led to them bouncing back to winning ways going into the Christmas break, which will no doubt raise the mood in the locker room considerably after a difficult stretch that saw them knocked out of the Challenge Cup and lose ground in the Elite League title race.
Fife's only goal came on the powerplay, Danick Gauthier pinging one into the top corner from the high slot at 9:47 of the final period with Liam Reddox in the box for holding, however by that stage it was only to reduce the scoreline to 3-1 and they were unable to claw their way back in the latter stages.
The Flyers had come closest to breaking the tie in the first period, again on the powerplay, as Paul Crowder rang the crossbar, however they didn't significantly test Owen in the Belfast goal, and at the other end Adam Keefe's side made their indiscipline pay.
"We were down to four defencemen for the latter part of that game, so a great job by our four guys to get us through that, especially during those kills," added Keefe. "It was a great character win for our team."
And, indeed, but for the heroics of Morrison between the pipes for the Flyers, the scoreline could have been much worse. The Scots' backstop made 27 stops, including two huge saves on Ryan Lowney and Pearce midway through the middle period, to keep them in it, but he was never rewarded by his offense.
Instead it's the Giants who head into the holiday season with a win at their backs and will return to action at home against the Glasgow Clan on Friday (face-off 7pm) looking to ensure this isn't another false dawn for their title challenge.
Belfast Telegraph Digital