Belfast Telegraph

Reading between the lines: Belfast Giants head coach Adam Keefe searching for winning combinations

Belfast Giants head coach Adam Keefe during Saturday night's Challenge Cup game against the Dundee Stars (William Cherry/Presseye)
Belfast Giants head coach Adam Keefe during Saturday night's Challenge Cup game against the Dundee Stars (William Cherry/Presseye)
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

Statistics are never everything, but so far they make for grim reading for the Belfast Giants' offense.

Coming into their Challenge Cup tie with the Dundee Stars, the Giants had scored more than twice in just two of their opening six games in all competitions, and while they would eclipse that against the Scots, it wasn't the swashbuckling offensive display Adam Keefe would have wanted.

Of the 68 shots they peppered Stars netminder Alex Leclerc with, only three managed to evade the Canadian and find the twine.

Of the Stars' substantially lesser 18, three made their way past Shane Owen before Anthony Beauregard's empty netter sealed the deal in potentially the most lopsided 4-3 win in hockey history in favour of the losing team.

An inability to finish their chances has been something of a recurring trend for the Giants early in the campaign. In Manchester, they scored just once on 35 shots. At home to Augsburger Panther, twice on 26. Even in Augsburg, just once on 27.

"That's not going to cut it," was the head coach's blunt assessment of his side's offense through their opening seven games.

While their defense, for the most part, has been resolute at the other end, it alone cannot win them games. The Giants have been on the wrong side of three of their four games this season that have been decided by one goal, and four of five if you include the road game in Augsburg where the Germans added an empty netter in a 3-1 scoreline.

In three of those four defeats, they have scored two or less goals, despite only averaging three goals against in some excellent defensive displays.

There have already been changes on offense, sometimes forced by injury to Liam Reddox but, for the most part, enforced by lines not clicking as hoped or by a simple lack of chance creation.

The powerplay has been putrid, scoring just twice in seven games and showing a severe lack of bite, while against the Stars it gave up two shorthanded goals as well, albeit one was that empty netter from Beauregard.

Put simply, things are not going as Keefe would have envisaged when he was assembling his roster, although he hasn't been helped by underwhelming output from some of his forwards.

Despite some good offensive work, center Jean Dupuy is yet to record a point through the opening seven games, while Bobby Farnham is another who has just the one goal to his name.

"We need to put four lines and six D out there that play well together, and special teams that play well together," said Keefe. "From there, players need to play. At the end of the day, once we put them out there the guys need to perform and perform well."

The threat that will hopefully see the upturn in performance is that things will change further. While there is a case for leaving things as they are to see if players gain a better understanding of each other with more ice time together, there is also an urgent need for some goals right now.

The looming threat of being a healthy scratch is getting ever closer too, with Jesse Forsberg nearing a return from injury. Should the rest of the roster remain healthy, then someone has to sit due to import limits, and the likelihood is it will be one of the forwards.

Keefe has been quick to make changes, never keeping the lines the same for more than two games at a time, and yet he still hasn't found that perfect quartet of forward lines that will unlock the potential in this offense.

It's not like he doesn't have the players at his disposal. Seven of his forwards are coming off campaigns last season with goal tallies in the double-figures. Ben Lake, in particular, notched 38 with the Coventry Blaze.

There have been promising signs too in a couple of games. Against Bili Tygri Liberec in their opening Champions League game, they scored five. They hit the Glasgow Clan for six in their opening domestic game. They can score goals, it's just proving hard to replicate on a regular basis.

All it takes is finding that one combination that will see everyone hit their stride in Belfast.

"It's back to the drawing board to find some line combinations that will click. Hopefully we can get to a point where we can stick with a couple of units where guys will really get to know each other," added Keefe.

"At the moment it's proving tough to find combos that will put us into that three, four, five goal range that will help you pull out these wins. When you make mistakes, you need to be able to find goals.

"It'll be tough to win games 1-0, 2-1, even 3-2. We need to find some more offense and we can't give up what we gave up."

Easier said than done. The Nottingham Panthers are next in town, and they look to have already found some combos that are working well on offense - and chances are they won't be in the mood to take a night off.

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