Giants draw a blank on Teddy Toss night as Duba backstops Steelers to victory
Belfast Giants 0-4 Sheffield Steelers
Ever since the Belfast Giants shut-out the Nottingham Panthers on their Teddy Toss night, you had a feeling the same thing might happen to the Giants themselves.
So it transpired on Saturday night, the Giants held scoreless by the Sheffield Steelers in the SSE Arena on their own Teddy Toss night and suffering a 4-0 loss to their rivals.
The toss instead took place during a third period break to fix the plexi-glass in the arena and was accompanied by a cacophony of boos as the frustrated fans voiced their displeasure at their own team's inability to beat Tomas Duba in a game for the second time this season.
It's the fourth time the Giants have been shut-out this season and, when compared to Friday night's 6-2 drubbing of the same opposition, is another frustrating example of how inconsistent this team has been this season as they drop to 12-8-2 on the season.
Duba made 31 saves in keeping the Giants scoreless at the SSE Arena, while Belfast themselves rang the iron twice while the score was still 1-0, but it was in the third period that the game got away from them.
David Phillips got a crucial goal to make it 2-0 at 4:54 of the final frame, firing through traffic from the blue-line and beating Shane Owen - 30 saves - and the visitors then added empty netters through Marc-Olivier Vallerand and Eric Meland to round off an ugly night in Belfast.
Penalty trouble was also a theme of the night as the Giants took six penalties to go on the kill, interrupting their momentum and forcing them to play catch-up hockey for the majority of the game, which didn't help their chances.
While the team needs no reminding that they are seemingly unable to find any consistency right now, they got a physical demonstration at how frustrated the fans are during the Teddy Toss, which saw hundreds of teddies thrown on the ice but accompanied by the derision of the supporters.
Even though they were only one behind - and, indeed, the game-winner actually came just 34 seconds into the game, former Giants winger Brendan Connolly forcing the puck in via a jam play at the crease - the offensive struggles are nothing new to this crowd.
The powerplay ran at an 0-for-5 clip, with Meland's empty netter coming shorthanded, and while they had their fair share of zone time and puck possession, that finishing touch was badly lacking, and it's not the first time we've said that either.
They did have their chances, Jordan Smotherman pinging the iron in the first period and Ryan Lowney doing likewise in the middle frame, but besides one particularly eye-catching stop from Duba in the opening period, they never threatened enough to break the deadlock.
The Steelers backstop made a brilliant pad save to deny Smotherman, just seconds after he had hit the post, and besides having to tip over a Curtis Hamilton one-timer, he was left relatively untested in blanking the Giants for the second time in 10 days.
In contrast, the Steelers were lively and buzzed around the offensive zone with vigour all night, and but for Owen then the Giants would have been much further behind on the scoreboard by the final buzzer, while a 5-for-6 penalty kill represents a good return for the Giants' defence - particularly when you factor in the powerplay goal was Vallerand's empty netter.
The Giants now know how the Panthers felt that night last season. Now all remains to be seen if they can use this and have a positive response when the Cardiff Devils come calling in the Challenge Cup quarter-final on Wednesday night.
Belfast Telegraph Digital