Smotherman joins party as Giants go goal crazy to silence Panthers
Belfast Giants 8 Nottingham Panthers 5
On a day where new signing Jordan Smotherman made his way from Iserlohn in Germany to Belfast in a hectic 10-hour dash to make his Giants debut, it should have been expected that yesterday's game would end up being just as crazy.
Thirteen goals were shared between the two sides and there were two hat-tricks for Giants players as both Kyle Baun and Dustin Johner struck trebles in the 8-5 win over the Nottingham Panthers.
To add to that, there were three goals in the final minute and 22 seconds of the game, including Baun completing his hat-trick and Smotherman scoring on his debut.
No matter how you feel about the performances though, at the end of a weekend that also saw them defeat the Coventry Blaze 6-5 on Saturday, the gap between the Giants and the Cardiff Devils at the top of the Elite League has been slashed to three points, and that's another step forward.
"For us, as a team, it was a big win, it was back and forth and it felt like a bit of a shoot-out, so to get the two points was huge," said Johner, who marked his 900th professional game of ice hockey with the treble.
Offensively there are still no questions over this side, as they showed across both games at the weekend. In the win over Coventry they scored six, and by the time the clock turned to the eighth minute of the first period against Nottingham, Baun and Johner both had their first goals.
But defensively there have been no shortage of issues that have plagued the Giants over the last few games, and yesterday was no different.
With Belfast seemingly happy to sit back on their opponents, Tommy Hughes and former NHL star Chris Stewart both fired home to level midway through the opening period, and even though the hosts restored their two-goal advantage through Baun and Darcy Murphy, it still wasn't enough.
Robert Farmer got it back to a one-goal game with 11.5 seconds remaining in the first period, and Jon Rheault levelled it early in the second when he was left completely alone at the back door on the powerplay.
After giving away a three-goal lead the night before against the Blaze, it was deja vu for Belfast, and there were plenty of concerns over the ease with which the Panthers were able to fashion their scoring chances.
"Over the last four games we've let in a lot of goals late in periods, and (against Coventry) we led 4-1 and tonight we had them down 4-2 and we let both of them into the game," admitted Johner.
"It makes us work a lot harder. When we do have the lead we have to keep teams down and keep playing strong defensively so we don't have to battle back late in games. It's something we'll address this week."
But, once again, where the defence were seemingly all at sea, it was plain sailing for the offense.
Johner's second mightn't have been the prettiest, the centre prodding home a rebound at the crease early in the third for the go-ahead goal on the powerplay, but it was effective.
And when an excellent poke check from Blair Riley set Johner away again, he emphatically finished for the treble.
However, the defence couldn't close it out with ease, leaving British international Brett Perlini all alone in the slot to make it a one-goal game again and making it a lot nervier than it should have been. Fortunately, it wasn't to be a problem, Baun completing his hat-trick with an empty netter, and there was even time for new man Smotherman to grab a debut goal after a delightful feed from Riley.
"I was having a joke with Bauner, we were on the ice and I told him he wasn't allowed to show me up by getting his own hat-trick - and then he went and did it!" laughed Johner.
"It just seems like it's someone else stepping up (and scoring) every night. We have confidence offensively, but it's defensively we're struggling. We need to tighten that up going into next weekend for sure."