Belfast Giants must toughen up at the back in title bid, admits Kendall McFaull
The Belfast Giants will be hoping to extend their five-game winning streak in the Elite League when they welcome the Guildford Flames to the SSE Arena tonight (face-off 7pm).
The second-placed Giants (31-10-1) come into tonight's meeting, the first of two against the Flames (21-19-4) in as many days in Belfast, in great form after some big wins on home ice.
Their final three-game weekend of the season will be concluded by a trip to Nottingham to face the Panthers in a matinee game on Sunday.
Despite the good run, there has been cause for concern for head coach Adam Keefe, who, despite seeing his side score 32 goals in their last six games, has been critical of a defence that has let in 27 in their last eight.
Defenceman Kendall McFaull said: "Defensively we haven't been playing the way we want to, we've been giving up too many goals.
"It's a bit of miscommunication. We're doing a lot of things right, but that one time we leave a guy open he's putting the puck in the back of the net. We also need to find a way to eliminate turnovers that create chances coming back at us."
However, the 26-year-old Canadian doesn't see it as a significant problem given their recent run of form coming into the game against the Flames.
Led by the sensational Calle Ackered on their blueline and the dynamic scoring of Kruise Reddick (55 points in 44 games) and John Dunbar (47 in 41), Guildford have found life tricky recently but have already proven they can be a handful, particularly on the powerplay.
The Giants found it tough to battle past them in a 3-2 win at the SSE Arena earlier in the season, with each game this campaign decided late in the tie, the Giants edging this year's series 4-1 so far.
"They're easy fixes, for sure," said McFaull of the recent issues. "It's awareness stuff mostly, which is easy to fix with video and being dialled in when we're on the ice, having a defence first mentality and going from there.
"But we're finding ways to score, and ultimately at this time of year if we're finding ways to win then that's most important, we can work on other parts of our game like the defensive zone in the meantime."
With just three points now separating the Giants from the league-leading Cardiff Devils, who are due in Belfast for a double-header at the end of the month, there's a chance for them to cut that gap with three wins this weekend, or potentially even regain the lead.
"Keefer's been stressing one game at a time, but it is hard not to look at the bigger picture," admitted McFaull. "But that's our mentality. We'll take one game at a time and keep chipping away."
In a 60-game season (and more when you add in the Challenge Cup and Continental Cup games too), things can get kind of monotonous as the season goes on, so it's always good to freshen things up.
That's provided by this year's fines master, Jonathan Ferland, who is in charge of keeping the boys on the straight and narrow when it comes to misbehaving.
Much was made last week of Dustin Johner having to pay £90 when he hit 900 professional hockey games, and it was only revealed afterwards that it was Ferland was the one who discovered that was the case!
It's all in good fun, with the players all agreeing to buy into it before the season begins, and Ferland admits the role was thrust upon him more than anything else.
"Last year it was Ryan Martinelli, this year Riles (captain Blair Riley) didn't give me much choice, he said you're going to do it!" laughs Ferland.
So what constitutes a fine then? We already know from last week that Ferland is keeping track of appearance milestones and applies corresponding fines, but there are plenty more to dish out in the meantime.
"Stuff like keeping the room clean to help Taff. If you leave something on the floor then it's £1," he explains. "It's all little stuff - if you're late you can be fined for that, we made a funny one this year where if you're man of the match it's £2!
"It all goes in the pot and we use it for if we do anything as a team, we buy stuff for it. It's good for a laugh and it gets guys up before a game."
There is one milestone coming up soon that Ferland is trying to avoid, and that's his own!
"The next big milestone is me now, so we have to keep that quiet!" he grins. "My 1000th pro game is coming up soon, but the guys do know - I didn't count myself in the list so the guys looked it up and found out!"
Giants trio Lewis Hook, Paul Swindlehurst and Mark Garside were all involved with the Great Britain team that defeated HC Dinamo Riga 3-1 in Coventry on Wednesday night, Hook finishing with a +1 rating after being on the ice for Luke Ferrara's opener... although this is the Giants' last three-game weekend, they do have three games in four days next weekend which will not be easy... the second leg of the Giants' Challenge Cup semi-final against the Glasgow Clan next Thursday will be shown live on FreeSports, with face-off at 7pm... former Giants netminder Carsen Chubak has signed a short-term deal with the Sheffield Steelers to back up another ex-Giants goalie Jackson Whistle... as a way of celebrating his 900th pro appearance, Dustin Johner was named Elite League Player of the Week after scoring a hat-trick against Nottingham and adding a further three points across the weekend