Giants slip back into old habits as six-game win streak snapped with loss to Panthers
Nottingham Panthers 4-1 Belfast Giants
They may have been on a six-game winning streak coming into this game, but it was the Belfast Giants side that endured a six-game winless streak that showed up in Nottingham on Saturday night.
That winning streak came to an emphatic end at the Motorpoint Arena, the Giants shipping three unanswered goals to open and never finding any kind of a sustained response, going down 4-1 in a tame loss to the Nottingham Panthers.
The performance had all the hallmarks of those road displays that saw Belfast struggle to six consecutive defeats earlier in the campaign, however, with the side unable to produce on offense and leaving netminder Shane Owen - 26 saves - isolated on defence.
At the back, Adam Keefe's side looked suspect throughout, struggling to contain the Panthers' top line that saw Brett Bulmer lead the scoring with a goal and an assist and William Quist pick up a goal, while defenceman Brian Connelly had a pair of assists.
At the other end of the ice, things weren't any better as they were limited to just the one goal by Panthers netminder Kevin Carr, who made 25 saves on the night, the imperious backstop only beaten by Patrick Mullen on a 5-on-3 powerplay late in the third period.
The powerplay as a whole failed to connect at key times - twice at 2-0 and then on an abbreviated spell at 3-1 - in going 1-for-4 on the night when it could have dragged them back into the game, but instead it's the Giants' first loss since October 19 and sees them fall to 8-2-2 in the Elite League.
New defenceman Ryan Lowney did at least get his first taste of EIHL action, thrown straight in on the blue-line just days after arriving in Belfast, with Jesse Forsberg and Liam Reddox sitting out.
It was a sign of the early pressure they were under that Belfast's penalty kill was forced into action twice in the opening ten minutes, Paul Swindlehurst (tripping) and Ciaran Long (holding) spending time in the box, but both times it came up big.
Despite killing those off though, it was the Panthers who pulled ahead at 18:26 of the first period, Brett Perlini seizing on a turnover along the boards and firing home past Owen from the right circle for 1-0.
It took the hosts just 4:10 of the second period to double their lead, Bulmer slamming in the rebound from the left face-off dot to make it 2-0 after Owen could only pad Connelly's inital shot back into danger.
That prompted Keefe to call his side in for a time-out, but it proved to be to no avail. Two powerplay chances came and went as Sam Herr (tripping) and Connelly (interference) both sat, with Carr left barely tested by the Giants on the man advantage.
At the other end, the Panthers were deadly. Bulmer again was involved for the third, this time as the creator, the winger flinging the puck back in front for Quist at the crease, and the Swede made no mistake with the one-timer at 17:00 for 3-0.
The Giants did come out for the third a bit more energised and Patryk Wronka nearly pulled one back early when he rang one off the corner of the bar and post, but ultimately it was another period of frustration for the visitors.
It was only when they went on the 5-on-3 powerplay - Perlini's illegal equipment minor compounded by a bench minor for too many men - that Belfast finally forged their opening, Mullen banking one in off Ollie Betteridge at 13:02 of the final frame to make it 3-1.
The short-lived comeback lasted 1:30, however, as Jake Hansen settled affairs with a beautifully taken finish, taking Connelly's pass to the crease and beating Owen five-hole to light the lamp for 4-1.
Keefe will take little consolation from another good night for the penalty kill at 2-for-2 as this was very much a poor night at the office on nearly every other aspect for the Giants head coach.
The Giants are back in action again on Sunday afternoon in the second game of their double-header with the Panthers at the Motorpoint Arena.
Belfast Telegraph Digital