Outclassed and outmatched, slack Giants suffer CHL defeat in Liberec
Bili Tygri Liberec 6-1 Belfast Giants
LIBEREC, Cze -- Back to reality for the Belfast Giants, perhaps?
Out-shot and, most importantly, out-scored in Liberec, a first regulation defeat of the season for Adam Keefe's brave European adventurers in the Czech Republic, and one in which they learned plenty of lessons.
"Going into tonight we were pretty confident, so that's a tough one for us," admitted Ben Lake. "To come out with an effort like that... we've just got to forget about this one."
The first lesson should be they have to take their chances when they fall their way. Another should be that they cannot gift opponents goals, particularly on the stage that is the Champions League.
Curtis Hamilton will be relieved that his slack pass that let Petr Jelinek grab the second of the night wasn't the crucial goal in the end, but it was just an epitome of the Giants' night.
Already down a goal after Libor Hudacek had given Liberec the lead after just 39 seconds, tipping in Lukas Derner's blue line shot, the winger tried to play out from his own zone but only found the Czech captain instead.
One-on-one with Shane Owen, the centre made no mistake with the finish at 8:39.
Owen himself will reflect on a night that will likely go down as a mixed bag as he mixed some strong saves - making 30 saves on the night - with a couple he will want back too.
While he was left high and dry for both Jelinek's goal and Radan Lenc's short-handed marker 5:15 into the third, he will not watch Marek Zachar's short-sided snipe back with any kind of pleasure.
The winger got himself in space out in front as Jelinek went behind the net to recover a dump in behind, and when the puck was reversed back into the slot, there was Zachar to finish on the tight angle at 8:14 of the second.
That was the goal that effectively sealed the result, with Liberec's tormentor-in-chief Hudacek's second another Owen could do very little about, the Slovak international firing a puck across the crease that was deflected in off a Giants skate just 52 seconds later.
But this is a game in which the Giants were firmly second best - out-shot 36 to 24, out-matched by a shot efficiency of 17% to a meagre 4% and even beaten at the face-off dot 34 to 30, they couldn't hold a candle to their Czech counterparts.
Ben Lake's solitary strike, Belfast's first away goal in the CHL, at 4:26 of the second had restored hope, the centre slamming in a one-timer after some excellent work from Liam Morgan down the boards, but that was as good as it got.
"I was on the forecheck there and the d-man threw it off my shin and it went into the corner. I heard Ben calling for it so I tried to get it to him and he did the rest," explained Morgan.
When Matt Pelech slammed Jan Ordos into the boards and got 2+2 for charging for what looked to be a very similar hit to the one he laid out on Michal Bulir a week ago, the tone was set for the game. The visitors would not be able to physically impose themselves again, and it showed.
While the penalty kill was exceptional in contrast to last week's efforts, going 6-for-6 on the night, the powerplay once again was a drag, slumping to another 0-for-7 clip.
Those frustrations boiled over after the final goal, Rostislav Marosz firing home with just a second left on the clock, and the exasperated - and exhausted - men in teal inciting a minor brawl on the ice in retaliation.
In truth, it was about all they could muster in response.
"I don't think we were at our best and they were, which is not a good combination to have," sighed head coach Adam Keefe. "I thought we'd come out a bit harder but it wasn't to be tonight."
"Any time you lose 6-1, you're not going to be happy," added Morgan. "We didn't have our best one tonight, that's for sure."
The Giants will remain in Liberec practicing until Saturday before they head on, and the chances are they'll be very glad to see the back of it.
Belfast are back in action against Augsburger Panther (0-2-0) on Sunday at the Curt-Frenzel-Stadion in Augsburg (4pm UK time) as they aim to bounce back on their second game of two on this road trip.
Belfast Telegraph Digital