Long: Giants eager to get back down to business
With the Champions League having been and gone, and the Challenge Cup group stages navigated - just - the Belfast Giants can finally settle in for a long stretch of much-needed Elite League games.
The helter-skelter start to the campaign that has seen them juggle three competitions in the first two months of the season hasn't helped what has been a tough opening 16 games for the Giants, but now there's optimism that they can hit their stride with just one tournament to focus on for the meantime.
Adam Keefe's side haven't won in their last five games, and are yet to win on the road, but, coming off two down days after Tuesday's defeat to Lulea, they are rested and ready to tackle a home double-header against the Manchester Storm tonight (face-off 7pm) and tomorrow (4pm).
Winger Ciaran Long said: "We're feeling good. It was nice to have a couple of days off. A lot of travelling, a lot of games in those 12 days, but the boys are ready to get going for the weekend."
While the CHL charge ended at the first hurdle, and the Challenge Cup nearly ended in a similar fashion, the Giants can at least fall back on a solid start to their Elite League title defence which has seen them go 2-1-1 in their opening four games.
Two wins against the Storm this weekend would go a long way to dispelling the frustration amongst the team, while also enabling them to build some momentum ahead of going back on the road at the Storm next Saturday, following another home tie with the Dundee Stars on Friday.
Despite sitting bottom of the league with a 1-5-0 record after six games, the Storm will be no pushovers, and have already seen off the Giants once this season by inflicting a 2-1 defeat on them in overtime at Planet Ice Altrincham last month.
And while Long, who joined the Giants from the Storm in the off-season, won't make excuses for the loss, he does admit that the team feel they have a score to settle this weekend.
"We were unlucky in Manchester. A lot of guys aren't used to that arena - that's not an excuse but it is what it is," he said, referring to Manchester's notoriously small ice sheet.
"The league is a long season, so if we get the wins this weekend it would put us in a nice spot. I think we need it as a team as well. It would be nice to win both games this weekend."
Finding back-to-back results has been problematic for the Giants, however, as they are yet to win both games in a weekend and have only won consecutive matches once, and even then they were six days apart.
While consistency has been a problem, Long believes that getting back to the SSE Arena this weekend for their first domestic home game for two weeks will help, particularly among the offense, which has failed to spark to start the season.
"We've got to play a 60-minute game. We've let ourselves down in a period (in each game) and lost a lead a few times this season. That's how we lost in Manchester the last time we played them," he stated.
"We just need a full 60-minute performance. Hopefully we get that (tonight) and that's something we can build on with Sunday's performance as well.
"We've just got to keep working hard and getting chances. We'll start banging them in at some point. There's not much you can do. You've just got to put your head down, work hard and the goals will come."
Manchester will be missing Great Britain international defenceman and captain Dallas Ehrhardt for tonight's clash as he serves the second of a two-game suspension.
• FORMER Giants winger Steve Saviano is the latest player to have been confirmed to return for Mark Garside's testimonial on February 11.