Regular KotG Contributor, Gary Jackson, gives us his mid-term report as the business end of the season approaches.
Back in August I wrote a piece previewing the league on the eve of the first faceoff. Confidence was high in Belfast, having won all the pre-season games in some style. CHL did little to dampen the hopes of the Sydenham faithful with a home win and OT loss (arguably should have been two wins but coulda woulda shoulda). Unfortunately Giants could not seem to carry that level of performance from the CHL into the domestic campaign, relying on results elsewhere to qualify out of the Challenge Cup group, only to be shut out home and away by Cardiff. We stopped their 3peat last season so its fitting they ended any chance of ours. As I write this the Giants have just completed they 27th league game having humiliated Glasgow Clan 5-1, but by the time you read this the return fixture will have been played and possibly another game or 2, which could make this whole article a load of nonsense.
So I’ll start with the Giants, scoring goals is what has been our problem all season. Of those teams in the playoff places currently only Guilford and Fife have managed to score fewer than the Giants 85. Its simply not good enough, and goes some way to explain why Keefe has made so many changes this season. A hat-trick last night by the latest recruit, Palmberg, is the first home hat trick tof the term. At the other end the Giants are mean, very mean. Shane Owen is not Tyler Beskorowany, and it took sections of the Belfast crowd a time to get used to this, he has a different style a different set of attributes and different positives. In Kevin Raine we have the best 2 way defenseman in the league, possibly in the leagues history but that’s a debate for a different day. Only Guilford have seen their team concede fewer than the 69 against Belfast. At time of writing, we current sit 3rd with 34 points, 4 points behind the ½ way leaders Sheffield, with 2 games in hand. There is still all to play for.
Cardiff were another team who had a great CHL campaign and it actually looked at one point like they were going to qualify from their group. An inconsistent start to the domestic campaign, including a home double header to Belfast in which they lost both games, has seen them have to come from behind. Haddad and Fournier are players who are lighting the lamp on a consistent basis for the Devils and of course you cant speak about the Devils without mentioning their so-called “GOAT” Joey Martin. I said pre season that Devils would struggle to win the league this time round, but would be a decent bet for one of the other trophies, their absolute demolition job of Giants in the first knock out round of the Challenge Cup, does little to tamper that second prediction. 36 points from 25 games, (4 games in hand against sheffield) does appear to make me look foolish on the first prediction. Forwards win games and defence wins championships, from what I have seen so far, and this is a brave prediction, if Cardiff can keep going the way they are going they will be the recipients of whatever the new league trophy is called.
I declared “They are back!” in August and boy was I right. Anyone who follows me on Twitter (@Jackogaz) will know I’ve been shouting about the overs bet all season with the Steelers. They’ve amassed 38 points from 29 games, and have 4 guys in the top 10 scorers’ charts. They are scoring for fun. The biggest revelation and surprise is that former Giant Brendon Connelly is up there, and appears to have reigned in his discipline issues. I watched Sheffield lose in Manchester a few months back, and in my opinion it was Connelly’s fault. He scored an absolute peach of a goal, and on his next shift took a 4 min penalty which the Storm scored on twice, winning the game. He still has that edge, but he does seem to be playing on the right side of it at the moment. It can’t last can it? For all their scoring prowess their defence has been shocking, 86 goals conceded in the league. If you are scoring 129 goals then that’s ok, but if big Vallerand or DeLuca or someone gets into a goal drought this could be exposed; Defence wins championships. They’ll be a top 2 team in this league season in my opinion its just a question if it is 1 or 2.
In August I described Nottingham Panthers as the dark horses, and to be honest they havent even lived up to that billing. They are a boring team to watch and while they are only 2 points behind Giants on the same games played, I don’t think that tells the full story. On a positive light Panthers are preparing a trip to the final of the IIHF Continental Cup in Denmark, a compeition that Panthers have won recently and their fans are quietly optimisic. They are out of the title race in my opinion, if not mathmatically then realistically. I look at ther roster and I cant see a player I would describe as a superstar, even a clutch player is hard to find. They are average, and their game plan is appearing to be to ruin your game plan. I cant see them inishing in the top 4 if I am honest
Best of the rest:
I said in August that you couldn’t look past the big 4, and I have seen little to question that assertion. 4th place is up for grabs, no doubt Patrick Smyth will point to my tweets in late November where I declared Glasgow as the “real deal,” at the time, when no other team had any sort of consitency they had come of the back of a 9 game winning streak they were sitting 2nd and had beat Belfast, Sheffield and Cardiff comfortably. I never said at any point they would be the winners just they would be in the mix. In December however they have managed just 1 overtime win against Manchester, and conceeded 3 or more goals in every game. Chad Rau, I was so excited and jealous when he was announced for Clan, but every time ive seen him he has been a passenger on the team, really has failed to live up to my expectations. After a poor December, Glasgow are closer to missing the playoffs than they are to the top of the league, they will not finish above 4th. Guilford Flames, a team I didn’t even mention in the pre season but they have quietly gone about their business sitting in 5th with 31 points, and 4 games in hand on Sheffied. No one has conceded fewer goals, but at the other end they have only scored 73. No one above them has scored fewer. Realistically 4th is their ceiling this season.
Words: Gary Jackson, Picture: William Cherry