Five-star Steelers bring Belfast Giants back down to earth with a thud
Sheffield Steelers 5-0 Belfast Giants
Belfast Giants head coach Adam Keefe talked about how much of a difference one week can make at the weekend. Try three days this time.
That's how long after they routed the Cardiff Devils in their own arena twice that it took them to come crashing back down to earth with a bone shattering thud, being routed themselves 5-0 at the FlyDSA Arena by the Sheffield Steelers.
It's the third time that the Giants have been shut-out this season - the second in the Elite League - as Keefe's side fall to 10-6-2 on the season, and it will be of great concern to the head coach that his side peppered Tomas Duba with 49 shots and couldn't beat him with one.
The netminder made some key saves, particularly in the second period when he denied David Goodwin and Bobby Farnham on the powerplay, as the Giants' offensive problems returned to bite them in another painful defeat after the joys of the weekend.
It was no secret as to where the Steelers would be the most testing, given their 4.45 goals per game average coming into the game, and so it proved as Anthony DeLuca and John Armstrong both fired in doubles that took the game beyond the Giants.
Winger DeLuca was there at 8:28 of the second period for a key goal, finishing a two-on-one breakaway with Brendan Connolly to make it 2-0, shortly after Curtis Hamilton had hit the post on an empty net chance for the Giants that would have tied it up.
And it was the winger who grabbed the fourth too, stabbing home the puck in a melee on the doorstep with 3:00 remaining in the middle frame to make it 4-0 and compound Belfast's misery given the visitors had dominated the shot count in the middle frame to the tune of 21-8.
But for the Giants it's yet another reminder of their ongoing frustration as they desperately try and find some consistency to their game, all their good work done in Cardiff undone in a horrible second period that saw them out-shoot Sheffield to the tune of 21-8 and still head in at the intermission having conceded three goals.
The hosts' third had come just 1:12 after DeLuca had added the second, and it was one that Shane Owen - who made 29 saves and could take little blame for any of the goals - had no chance to save as a strong forecheck effected the turnover and Nikolai Lemtyugov fed Armstrong for the backdoor tap-in.
It was Armstrong who rounded off the scoring at 9:34 of the final period too, coming on the powerplay with Ciaran Long in the box for high-sticking, as he picked up the rebound and drew Owen to the ice before finishing high into the cage.
But as good as Duba was at the other end, Belfast contributed to their own demise in equal measure, with some questionable defensive plays leading to the goals and a dreadful night for the powerplay that saw it limp along to an 0-for-4 night.
Hamilton really should have tied it up early in the second period when some lovely interplay from Patryk Wronka and Ben Lake opened up the net for him and he could only ring the iron, and perhaps their night was best summed up when Goodwin earned a penalty shot with just 2:20 remaining after drawing a hook from Aaron Brocklehurst, only to hit the post as well.
The penalty kill fared little better on a problematic night for the special teams, which saw it go 2-for-4 in the game, as everything the defending league champions did well at the weekend failed to click in Sheffield.
Ironically, they looked best in the first period but still headed in at the first intermission down after Lucas Sandstrom put the Steelers ahead at 16:47 of the first, jamming the puck home from the angle on the powerplay with Brian Ward off for hooking.
Also concerning for Keefe is a lower body injury suffered by captain Matt Pelech, which forced the imposing defenceman out of the game late in the first period and could see him miss some time going forward, but this is yet another setback in a rollercoaster season for the defending league champions.
The Giants will aim to get back to winning ways when they go for their fifth road game on the spin on Saturday when they travel to the Fife Ice Arena to take on the Flyers (8-9-2, 6th, 18pts).
Belfast Telegraph Digital