Flyers hit rock bottom after defeat to Caps

Shane Owen lies flat out in front of his net on a night where his team mates hung him out to dry. Pic: Steve Gunn
Shane Owen lies flat out in front of his net on a night where his team mates hung him out to dry. Pic: Steve Gunn

Fife Flyers 3 Edinburgh Capitals 5

Fife Flyers sank to the bottom of the Gardiner Conference last night after a dire home defeat to Edinburgh Capitals.

And, in truth, that is exactly the position they deserve for an apathetic performance in the competition this season.

This 5-3 defeat was a repeat of many of the conference fixtures Flyers have played this season where they take an early lead, only to regress into passive, disinterested hockey and allow an opponent they should be better than to outplay them.

Flyers have good players - no question - but they are clearly not as good as they think they are if they believe they can simply turn up and win conference games without putting in the same effort they do in crossover games.

And while injuries may have played a part, the coaching staff must also question why they have been unable to get the best of their side on a consistent basis.

There is simply no excuse for producing a heroic effort to defeat a title-chasing Sheffield Steelers, then failing to get up for a one-game weekend against the Edinburgh Capitals, but unfortunately it has been the story of this hot and cold season.

And undoubtedly this has diluted some of the big results this team has had over the course of the campaign.

Last night's embarrassing second period was as bad as anything Flyers have produced in the EIHL era - including the difficult first season - as they allowed the league's bottom side to fire 24 shots on netminder Shane Owen.

It's not often a goalie will lose two goals in a period and come out with a 91.6 per cent save percentage, but even a man of the match performance from Owen couldn't save Flyers this time.

Both sides had chances to grab the lead in an end-to-end start before Flyers got themselves in front on 7.51 as Ric Jackman's shot took a deflection off Mat Sisca on its way into the Capitals net.

Carlo Finucci had a chance to make it 2-0 but when presented with time and space in the slot, he fired wide.

Caps may be in their customary position at the bottom of the table, but they are a different proposition from the ramshackle side of previous years and, in early March, still have an outside chance of clawing back the teams above them to make their first play-offs.

So there was no question of them lying down and they battled back to level the game before the end of the first period as Jared Staal reacted far quicker than the Fife defence to collect a shot which rebounded off the backboards to force home a wraparound effort at the near post.

Neither side had stamped their authority on a largely docile first period, but the impetus firmly shifted towards Caps in one of the most one-sided periods of hockey witnessed this season.

Despite a slow start to the period, Flyers regained their lead on 23.02 when they out-numbered the Caps on a counter-attack, and Sebastian Thinel's cleverly disguised drop pass found Ryan Dingle making a late dash over the blue-line to fire through the five-hole of netminder Travis Fullerton.

If anything, this goal lulled Flyers into a stupor as they allowed apathy to set in, and invited Caps to completely overrun them.

Owen was hung out to dry as Caps rained shot after shot on his goal, and although the 'keeper peformed heroics to keep them at bay, it was only a matter of time until the incessant pressure paid off, with Yevgeni Fyodorov slamming home a rebound on 35.09.

A minute later Caps struck again to lead 3-2 through Matt Tipoff's tip-in - and it was no less than they deserved.

Flyers had to show a response at the start of the third period, but instead Caps opened up a 4-2 lead inside a minute of the restart as Jacob Johnston skated through centre-ice unchallenged, and into the Fife zone, before firing a low shot into the bottom corner.

There was no suggestion that Flyers could repair the damage. It took the introduction of a 17-year-old kid to inject some life into the side as GB under 18 forward Chad Smith stepped off the bench to make his EIHL debut with 10 minutes left, ensuring the night was not completely devoid of positives.

The youngster's energy and keenness to get involved lifted the crowd, and jolted his team mates into action as the Caps netminder, for the first time since the 23rd minute, started to come under pressure.

Fullerton made an excellent sprawling save to deny Chase Schaber, then looked on as Jackman's slapshot from out wide struck the inside of the post.

Flyers did pull one back with five minutes left as Russ Moyer stepped up from the back to shovel a backhand effort into Fullerton's top corner.

It was a goal that gave the home side a chance to rescue a woeful display, but the damage had been done and despite withdrawing Owen and forcing Fullerton into a few good stops in a frantic six-on-five finish, Caps sealed a deserved win with an empty net clincher with one second left on the clock through Jaroslav Hertl.

Flyers head coach Todd Dutiaume pulled no punches in his assessment of his team's display.

"You shouldn't have to beg people to work hard but that second period was just total lack of commitment to the process," he said.

"Against perceived bigger clubs we get commitment for full game but as soon as we get a lead in conference it's shortcuts & cheat, cheat, cheat.

"This team just doesn't want to put on its work boots consistently. It's lucky we've shown up against southern conference teams or we'd be in last place."

Flyers record against Erhardt teams at least gives some hope for play-offs, but it will take something special to make up for the conference failings.