Belfast Telegraph

Giants have positives to take from loss: Leonard

 

Staying calm: Curtis Leonard isn’t wallowing in defeat
Staying calm: Curtis Leonard isn’t wallowing in defeat
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

On another night, the Belfast Giants could have started their Elite League title defence with a comfortable victory over the Manchester Storm had they had that finishing touch at Planet Ice Altrincham on Sunday.

As it was, Jean Dupuy hit the post at one end and seconds later Jared Aulin settled it at the other by firing in a rebound to win it for Storm in overtime.

Even during regulation the Giants could, and maybe should, have had it won when Dupuy and Patryk Wronka both hit the iron, while Storm netminder Matt Ginn made 35 saves in frustrating Adam Keefe's men.

Despite the result, however, defenceman Curtis Leonard insists the Giants (0-0-1) will be looking at the positives from the performance.

"We were short-handed. That's no excuse, you have to find a way to come out with the win, but our defensive corps played pretty well," said the Canadian, who picked up the man of the match award in Altrincham.

"We had chances to score, you saw Jean Dupuy step up and go at (Manchester d-man Mathieu) Gagnon and that shows guys care on this team.

"We did get a point out of it, so we'll take that into this week and look forward to Dundee and Nottingham."

The defence in particular has been a huge positive for the Giants as for the second game in a row, having thumped the Glasgow Clan 6-1 on Saturday, they limited their opponents to just one goal in regulation.

That's made even more impressive as they have been playing short-benched so far, having to deal without Jesse Forsberg since the opening game of the season, while against the Storm they were also without another key blue-liner in Patrick Mullen.

"We have a good group of guys back there, but it's not just us, it's Shane Owen too. He makes some big saves when he needs to," praised Leonard of the Giants goaltender, who made 30 saves in Sunday's loss.

Forward Mark Garside has been forced to cover defence in the absence of Forsberg and Mullen as well, which drew praise from captain Matt Pelech, who commented: "Defensively we're playing very well. Garside played really well, Owen has played great every single period. We've just got to build on it."

However, the lack of a finishing touch has been a concern for the Giants already this season. The side are averaging just 2.67 goals per game - although, admittedly, four of those ties have been in the tricky environment of the Champions League - and an anaemic powerplay, which went 0-for-3 in Manchester, is a worry too.

Leonard said: "It was just one of those games where we controlled it for the most part but they came out with the win.

"When you get your chances, especially the ones we had at 1-0, you have to bury them and we didn't.

"It's great to see that we're limiting goals but we have to start scoring some too."

The Giants hope they will have the injured trio of Mullen, Forsberg and Liam Reddox all available for Saturday's return to Challenge Cup action against the Stars at the SSE Arena.

The Giants also welcome the Nottingham Panthers to Belfast for a league tie on Sunday, with their conference rivals likely to provide them with another stern test early in the campaign.

Pelech admitted: "There's no excuses in this game. We're not thrilled, but at least we took a point out of this game. We worked hard but we've got a lot of work to do this week.

"We have to simplify things. A lot of times keeping things simple leads to goals, and I think we have to stick to that."

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