Keefe urges Giants not to pay the penalty ahead of Euro bow
It might be stating the obvious, but Adam Keefe's repeated calls for his Belfast Giants side to cut down on needless penalties shows how urgent the issue is.
The Giants are just two days away from their opening Champions League (CHL) tie against Czech runners-up Bili Tygri Liberec at the SSE Arena (7.30pm) and the head coach is hoping they can overcome some glaring penalty problems that arose during pre-season.
Keefe's charges shipped no fewer than 15 penalties across the two games at the weekend against Danish side Herning Blue Fox, most of which were seemingly avoidable, and the coach knows they'll have to tidy that up for the visit of Liberec.
"We're certainly going to have to clean (the penalties) up going into the Champions League. If we take that many penalties it's going to be a long night for us. That's one area we can improve on, certainly," insisted Keefe.
"It's stuff that guys know they shouldn't be doing. It's careless stuff and we need to clean it up and realise you're hurting your team every time you go down.
"We have to be more careful with our sticks. Skate with your man instead of putting your stick on him and be more careful in general in terms of not taking penalties. It kills the flow of the game and on Thursday we're playing a team with a good powerplay. We can't put them on the powerplay."
Despite the penalty problems, the Giants have been very impressive during their four exhibition games, winning all of them - two against Swedish side Mora IK and two against Herning - to head into the CHL unbeaten.
The special teams have been strong, most notably the penalty kill which was required so frequently last weekend, the defence and new netminder Shane Owen have been excellent, while the side's in-your-face physical style didn't sit well with their European opponents.
The performances have left Keefe happy with how his team are shaping up, though he admitted he would have liked to play the speedier Mora last weekend as a better test ahead of Liberec.
"The pace was slower (against Herning), the penalties slowed us down. It was tough to get the lines any momentum," claimed Keefe.
"I was trying to keep everyone fresh but it wasn't easy with all those penalties, a lot of guys were sitting on the bench watching the penalty killers."
He also knows that Liberec will be a step up on the Danes, as will the Giants' next opponents, Augsburger Panther of Germany, who they face in Belfast on Saturday, and they will need to find another gear to compete.
"Last week (against Mora) we proved we can play at that pace. I'm very confident our guys will turn up on the night against Liberec and match their pace," added Keefe.
"We're going to need to do that, we're going to need to play faster than we did this weekend. Our decisions have to be quicker, everything will have to be quicker if we want to have success in the Champions League.
"We have the quality and the leadership and the experience to get some results in this tournament but we need to up our tempo and decision making."
Defenceman Jesse Forsberg is expected to be fit to play in Thursday's game against Liberec having been removed from Saturday's win over Herning as a precaution after taking a knock.