Giant strides will bring us success, says Walser
Derrick Walser has put the Belfast Giants' current winning streak down to mentality as much as quality. Five successive Elite League wins and a seven-match unbeaten run in all competitions has taken the Giants to second place in the table, eight points behind the Cardiff Devils with two matches in hand, and secured a semi-final berth in the Challenge Cup.
They have an opportunity to cut that lead even further with a pre-Christmas double header against the Edinburgh Capitals at the SSE Arena tonight and tomorrow, while Cardiff face just one game this week when they play Manchester Storm tomorrow night.
The last eight games have brought 12 points for Walser's men and the character of the team is now shining through.
"Guys are leading by example. Chris Higgins, Steve Saviano, Blair Riley, Brandon Benedict and Adam Keefe have all stepped up and shown what they are about," said player-coach Walser.
"It's not all imports either. Colin Shields, Matt Towe and Jonathan Boxill were excellent against Manchester. They all feed off each other.
"We are becoming a team and I like what I see.
"When guys see others going into the corners fighting for the puck and chasing down everything then they want to do it too.
"Over the last few weeks we have cut the lead from 12 points to 10 points and now eight. We can get it down to four and that would put us in a good position to really shoot at Cardiff in the months ahead."
Tonight's game will be the Giants' ninth this month, with matches to come next Monday, Wednesday and Friday too.
The winning run and the schedule are currently mutually beneficial, but Walser concedes that it could just as easily have been the opposite if results hadn't been going the Giants' way.
"Things can go two ways. When you are winning you want to play every night, but if we weren't, the feeling would be very different," said Walser.
"At the minute things are going well, we are fit and healthy, we are feeling good and we're on that run and having such a busy schedule it's like we're in survival mode.
"Edinburgh haven't played as many games as us and will be more rested, but they will come out fighting and they will be a desperate team so we can't just turn up and expect to win."
As well as scoring a vital late equaliser in last week's Challenge Cup quarter-final first leg against Manchester, and two more in the return leg as the Giants fought back from 3-1 down to win 4-3, Higgins' nine goals in 20 league games have been a major factor in the rise to second place in the Elite League and Walser is expecting more to come from one of his big players.
"Chris Higgins has been excellent from day one this season," said Walser.
"He brings something to the table every night.
"Even if he's not scoring he is dominating guys and putting in some big performances for us.
"Blair Riley and Mike Forney are thriving playing alongside him and the way he plays and the things he does - even in practice - make you wonder."
Jackson Whistle is expected to start in goal tonight with Stephen Murphy playing on Friday night.
Walser will only reverse the order if Whistle requires an extra day's rest.