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Giants face big ask after losing more title ground

Sheffield Steelers 4 Belfast Giants 1

Jordan Smotherman

Having hailed his side's penalty killing in Saturday's win over the Glasgow Clan, it almost seemed like fate that Adam Keefe would be left to curse the Belfast Giants' indiscipline a day later.

In total, the Giants took seven minor penalties and a major penalty in conceding three powerplay goals to fall to a 4-1 defeat at the Sheffield Steelers, losing further ground in the Elite League title race.

The gap between the Giants and the Steelers is now nine points and, although that isn't insurmountable - especially given the Giants have two games in hand on their rivals - it's already looking like a tall order for them to scale this back.

At 21-13-2 on the season, it's another one-win weekend for Keefe's men, and while this one perhaps isn't as bad as previous efforts given the calibre of opposition, another chance to claw back the deficit at the top has passed them by without so much as a whimper.

In truth, the Giants didn't help themselves. They were unable to gather any kind of meaningful momentum due to repeatedly being on the penalty kill and also being down a man.

Captain Matt Pelech made sure of that, ejected at the tail end of the first period by taking a five-plus game penalty for a check to the neck of Marek Troncinsky, which put the Giants on the back foot, and it was on the five-minute major that Sheffield got their game-winner.

It was Tanner Eberle who got it, the Steelers forward working some space for himself in the left circle and rattling one in and back out off the back bar at 15:15 of the opening period for what would prove the decisive strike to make it 2-1 at the time.

The penalty kill was a disappointing 5-for-8 on the night, reflecting both the indiscipline and the toll that it took on the Giants' fatigued special teams, with Troncinsky's opener and Michael Davies' third for the Steelers also coming on the powerplay.

Troncinsky had put the hosts ahead at just 2:13 when the Giants took a too many men call, the forward depositing a rebound off his own shot for 1-0, with Davies adding some insurance at 17:28 of the middle frame with a well-taken one-timer from the left circle.

Ironically, the Giants themselves had drawn level at 8:35 on their own powerplay - Lucas Sandstrom in the box for slashing - when Jordan Smotherman ripped one in from the high slot to at that time make it 1-1, but that was as good as it got.

They weren't able to capitalise on a couple of powerplays in the first, Davies (cross-checking) and Eberle (elbowing) both sitting on separate occasions, but it was early in the second period that their best chance came.

Earning a 25-second 5-on-3 powerplay with John Armstrong (roughing) and Janne Kolehmainen (slashing) in the box, the puck found its way to Smotherman on the angle but he fired straight at Steelers netminder Tomas Duba, who made 22 saves.

At 3-1 down, they had chances to make it a tight game too, with Elgin Pearce and Bobby Farnham gifted a two-on-one late on, only for the former to miss the cage entirely after the latter's feed.

And that allowed James Bettauer, the Sheffield defenceman filling in on the wing, to round off the scoring with an empty-netter with 1:56 remaining, netminder Shane Owen (25 saves) pulled for the extra skater and the Steelers man sliding the puck the length of the ice.

Belfast Telegraph