Edinburgh Capitals slipped to a fifth straight loss in disappointing fashion, rounding off their Challenge Cup group campaign with a sloppy 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Belfast Giants.
Both sides had already qualified, with Edinburgh making it through to the last eight for the first time ever, so the only question yet to be decided was the Capitals’ quarter-final opponents. Edinburgh needed a point to leapfrog Braehead Clan into third, but their inability to grab something from the game sets up a two-legged tie with the Sheffield Steelers, instead of a clash with Nottingham.
Belfast came into their third game of a three game weekend buoyed by two consecutive wins while the Capitals went down in a close game in Fife on Saturday night. They would have to do without player/coach Michal Dobron in defence, while again there was no Rihards Grigors.
The visitors started the game the brighter of the two sides and were rewarded for it on their first real chance of note. Having done well to keep the puck in the offensive zone, James Desmarais and Matt Towe combined to feed former Capitals forward David Rutherford, and he made no mistake with 2:04 played to give the Giants the lead.
It would prove to a short lived one. Edinburgh fought back immediately, virtually off the face-off, with Pavel Vorobyev finding Yevgeni Fyodorov who skated deep into the Belfast zone to level just sixteen seconds later. Fyodorov did well to open up a shooting lane and he duly picked his spot, rifling an effort across Andrew Dickson and into the far corner for 1-1.
The frenetic opening continued with Garrett Milan penalised for tripping but the Giants would be frustrated with the Capitals rallying to kill the penalty off. It was nearly even sweeter for the hosts with Vorobyev picking up the puck off the boards and racing deep into the Belfast zone, but his effort went wide as he searched for the short-handed goal.
Back at full strength, Edinburgh weren’t far away from a second goal of the night. It came after two bits of inspired play by Mason Wilgosh. First he bailed out a poor cross-ice pass by Jaroslav Hertl, instigating a move going the other way before firing on net, and then he nearly turned provider for Jared Staal. The chance wouldn’t have materialised had Wilgosh not had the presence of mind to prevent an icing call, with Staal going close on the ensuing wrap around try.
Up the other end, Rutherford nearly added his and Belfast’s second on an audacious backhander but Travis Fullerton reacted well to make the save.
His opposite number in net, Dickson, was not going to be overshadowed making a tremendous double stop to keep the Capitals at bay. Karel Hromas’ initial shot was blocked in front, yet Dickson was alert to brilliantly keep out both Fyodorov and Vorobyev on consecutive efforts.
Steve Saviano then teed up linemate Blair Riley for a quick shot though Fullerton matched it with the save before Mike Forney inadvertently flashed the rebound wide when well placed.
The Capitals were soon on the power play, commencing a crazy succession of penalties, following a holding call against Jeff Mason with 9:34 to play.
Jacob Johnston fed Ian Schultz for the shot but the Capitals would breathe a huge sigh of relief going the other way. An inopportune Michael D’Orazio slip presented a golden opportunity for Brandon Benedict on the short-handed breakaway, but his backhander skipped wide.
That power play soon became a 5 on 3 opportunity for Edinburgh following a call against Jonathan Boxill. After Hertl’s pass across the goalmouth nearly found compatriot Hromas, the Capitals would work a move out in front following good work behind the net by Fyodorov and Vorobyev. The slapshot by D’Orazio flashed wide before Johnston had two efforts in quick succession blocked by a stout Belfast rearguard.
Belfast threatened to undo their good defensive work as they gifted Edinburgh another 5 on 3 chance immediately with Adam Keefe this time the culprit. D’Orazio again threw the puck on net with Staal attempting to redirect in front but the Giants survived on a huge penalty kill.
It seemed to shift the momentum back their way and Keefe, just out of the penalty box, forced Fullerton into action with a sharp drive. Tyler Plews nearly presented a chance from nothing for the Giants miscontrolling the puck behind his own cage, but he made amends superbly to block Benedict’s point effort.
Fullerton had to be on his toes again to blocker away an effort from Colin Shields after neat stick work had fashioned an opening. By now Belfast were upping the ante and Forney would try his luck twice to no avail. The first chance came after neat play between Jim Vandermeer and Chris Higgins, but Sean Beattie superbly threw himself in front of the shot. Forney’s follow up effort was well saved by Fullerton to keep the score at 1 apiece.
But as it happens, Belfast would strike for a second time before the end of the first period. A Higgins drive was saved by Fullerton, but he could only parry it back out into the crease with the arriving Michael Quesnele reacting quickest to turn home the rebound with 1:27 left. It rather undid some strong defensive work by the hosts, coming off a swift break following a Milan air-shot.
The Capitals, already short of numbers defensively, were dealt another blow to begin period two with the news that makeshift defenceman Schultz would not return with a suspected thumb injury.
Undeterred by that setback, Hromas forced Dickson into action with the glove as the Capitals sought a way back into the game. Up the other end, a Shields shot forced Fullerton into work with the pad and then Staal blocked a Towe effort as the Giants looked for a third goal.
They got it almost immediately but in rather fortuitous circumstances in truth. Plews delivered a strong hit on Saviano but, to his credit, he quickly found his bearings firing a shot that took a wicked deflection past Fullerton. There was nothing the Capitals’ netminder could do as he helplessly watched it loop up and over him to hand the Giants a two-goal cushion with 2:36 played.
After that stroke of misfortune, Fyodorov would see his square pass cut out well by Mason while Matt Nickerson would test Fullerton with the blocker.
However a power play chance provided the platform for the Capitals to reduce the arrears again. Their power play has found a new lease of life in recent games and Johnston continued that theme with a rocket of a slapshot, the third time Edinburgh have lit the lamp on the man advantage in their last four games. Critically though it had the Capitals back in the game at 3-2 with 14:37 to play.
Just when Edinburgh had seemingly wrestled momentum away from Belfast, it would be the visitors who would strike again. Frustratingly for the hosts, it came against the run of play following a Staal half chance in front following good work by Taylor MacDougall and a tipped Wilgosh effort wide after Johnston had thrown the puck on net.
The manner of the goal won’t have pleased Edinburgh, coming directly off a turnover in the Capitals’ zone. Beattie was guilty of trying to play his way out of trouble but he was unable to hold onto the puck under pressure. The impressive Rutherford picked out the arriving Desmarais who made no mistake with most of the net to aim at extending Belfast’s lead to 4-2.
It proved to be a huge turning point just as Edinburgh threatened to launch one of their trademark come-from-behind performances. Belfast, meanwhile, took control of the contest from here on out.
The Capitals would survive on the penalty kill again, one of the huge positives to come out of this one, thanks in no small part to Plews’ heroic block from a swift Shields shot.
D’Orazio would fire on net on Edinburgh’s next offensive series, picking up the puck following slick work by Matt Tipoff and Milan to create an opening.
But Edinburgh would be let off on another turnover with Riley unable to cash in on the one on one opportunity. While Riley didn’t appear to strike his efforts with much conviction, take nothing away from the superb Fullerton who did what he had to, keeping the score within reach.
Boxill would go close off another Capitals turnover, as Fullerton again bailed out an Edinburgh side struggling for rhythm. It came after Staal had forced Dickson into a neat glove stop.
The hosts were back on the power play soon afterwards, looking to capitalise for a second time, with Dickson alert to save from Johnston after MacDougall had attempted the tip in front. However the Giants rallied to return to full strength unscathed.
Another Capitals turnover nearly rubbed salt into the wounds with D’Orazio guilty of conceding possession cheaply, though he did well alongside Vorobyev to tie up Desmarais.
The Giants were back on the power play themselves as period two wound down, with Higgins going close with a point drive following good work by Quesnele.
Fullerton would again come up big for the Capitals saving from point blank range in front of the net to keep the score at 4-2 heading into the final period.
Belfast would surely have fancied their chances with a minute remaining on a penalty against Plews. They would go close to a fifth when Nickerson cleverly redirected an effort in front but Fullerton again reacted smartly to save.
A game that had been littered with penalties continued in the same vain although the Capitals failed to take full advantage. It wasn’t for the want of trying with D’Orazio doing well to fire on net, taking advantage of an excellent Hromas screen, but Dickson did well to locate the puck and save.
And before long, the Giants had what felt like the game clinching fifth goal. The Capitals were carved open by some slick passing with Towe finding Desmarais for his second of the night with 15:32 to play.
Dickson had to be on his toes at the other end, saving with his shoulder off a D’Orazio point shot. Edinburgh would go close to replying again with Dickson somehow managing to turn a bobbling puck onto the post from a Staal effort. It rather summed up the Capitals’ night.
That misfortune was compounded barely two minutes later when D’Orazio had his shot tipped and, while many of the Capitals’ supporters thought the puck had found the net, no goal was awarded by the officials.
Up the other end of the ice, Saviano would go close firing an effort into the side netting and before long the Giants would round off a comprehensive win with a sixth goal.
Boxill was quickest to react in front showing tremendous strength to control a bouncing puck and steer an effort beyond Fullerton with 7:55 to play.
Six nearly became seven when Quesnele fed Benedict but he couldn’t turn home from in front of the net as the Capitals survived a threatening Giants break.
Two final power play chances would come the way of the Capitals with D’Orazio’s slapshot about the closest they came to a third goal on the first opportunity.
Belfast thought they had goal number seven soon afterwards when Saviano redirected a shot but it was waived off by the officials, before strong skating by Vandermeer crafted a chance for Rutherford who wasn’t far away from registering his third point of the night.
The Capitals’ night was compounded by another piece of misfortune when Staal’s effort was parried and the follow up ricocheted onto the post with 18 seconds to play.
But there was no getting away from the fact that the Capitals didn’t play to the standard they’re capable of, going down 6-2 in a disappointing performance against the Giants. It’s certainly not all doom and gloom, despite Edinburgh succumbing to a fifth consecutive loss including a fourth straight on home ice.
They can however look forward to their maiden Challenge Cup quarter-final appearance when they face the Sheffield Steelers over two legs, with the home tie pencilled in for Wednesday 23 November.
Forward Mason Wilgosh shared his disappointment after the game, insisting that the performance wasn’t anywhere near the levels the Capitals are capable of reaching.
“Well looking back now, we’re not too happy with our performance. We didn’t show up tonight, plain and simple, and we’re not happy about that. Yes we qualified, but at the end of the day that doesn’t matter, we want to play every game to our full potential. We’re just not happy with it, we’ve got to look at it this week and try to move forward, figure out what went wrong and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“We’ve been in a lot of close games the last two or three weeks here and it is frustrating at times but we’ve got to stick with it. It has been a few bounces that maybe we could have prevented but at the end of the day they’re over with now. We’ve just got to look at the positives from the games and try to build and start getting on a roll again.
“We thought we played quite well in Fife. They had a couple of lucky bounces and they capitalised on them. We thought we played great and that was one of our better team games so we had a lot of confidence [coming] into tonight. We’re not really sure what happened tonight but we’re not pleased with it.
“We’re excited, I know we’re the first team here to make it [to the Challenge Cup quarter-finals]. Now we’ve just got to look forward to it and start preparing for that. We’ll start looking forward into that and get as well prepared as we can.”