Braehead Clan 5 Fife Flyers 1
ANY defeat at this stage of the ice hockey season, when momentum is crucial, can be a damaging one.
But Fife Flyers self-inflicted defeat at Braehead Ice Arena on Wednesday night was about as spirit-crushing as it gets.
Whether at home or away, when you outshoot a team that is on a seven-game losing streak 39-28 the least you should be taking is a point.
You certainly wouldn’t expect to be on the end of a 5-1 defeat.
Flyers however, for the third away match in a row, managed to effectively beat themselves by failing to cash in on chances, and gifting away cheap goals at crucial times.
Assistant player-coach Danny Stewart could not believe the team had thrown away another game when the Press caught up with him after the final buzzer.
“We just continue to shoot ourselves in the foot,” he said.
“For the first two periods we played great hockey, and we were out-shooting them 34-17 after the second period, yet we found ourselves down 2-1. There’s the difference.
“We get a five-on-three powerplay at 1-1 and it was terrible – absolutely shocking. We failed to capitalise on that and they score one late in the second and it really killed us.
“We came back strong in the third for the first few shifts, then we make crucial individual mistakes that cost us the third, fourth and fifth goals.
“It’s frustrating because we put a game-plan in place and executed it for two periods, but we failed to capitalise on some chances.
“It’s our own fault. We’re finding ways to beat ourselves.
“Credit to Braehead though. They played well and capitalised on their chances – something we failed to do – and they deserved their win.
“We’re definitely not helping our own cause right now – that’s for sure.”
Flyers have now lost their last four games and with just three more left to secure a play-off spot, Stewart was asked whether the team still had it in them to qualify.
“I believe so,” he said. “I sure hope guys are not on the flight home already.
“This team has progressed so much from last year, but our road record is not where we’d like it to be.
“We’ve actually played some good games on the road, it’s just through individual mistakes that we’ve failed to get those results.
“I don’t know if it’s down to experience – we do have a younger side – and maybe it’s not knowing how to win properly yet and doing what it takes to win.
“I’d like to think guys still have it in them and want to win – I know Dutes and I still do – I guess we’ll see this weekend.
“I don’t care if guys have to take pucks in the teeth. We have to do whatever it takes to win our games against Edinburgh.”
Flyers had Clan pinned in their own end from face-off but, against the run of play, the home side opened the scoring on 12.19 when Matt Hanson’s shot from the blue line found the net.
Clan enjoyed their best spell of the opening two periods in the minutes that followed their opener and Flyers were fortunate not to concede again.
However, a penalty called against Clan’s Craig Cescon for a fierce cross-check to the back of Jason Pitton gave Flyers a chance to take back the momentum.
And the visitors made the most of their powerplay with Casey Haines shovelling the equaliser past Daren Machesney on 18.11.
Flyers cranked up the pressure in the second period but waves of attacks on the Clan net failed to produce a goal.
Too often pucks were either mis-controlled at the crucial moment or the final pass went astray, while Machesney in the Clan net was allowed to get a clear view of shots.
Two minor penalties called within seconds of each other on Clan’s Brock McPherson and Adam Walker gave Flyers a full two minute five-on-three powerplay.
However, they were unable to make it count and that proved to be a game-changing, and possibly season-ending, setback.
In the final minute of the period, when concentration levels ought to be highest, Flyers switched off to leave Cescon in space in the slot.
His first-time finish flew past Bryan Pitton’s glove and nestled in the bottom corner – a touch of finesse that Flyers lacked all night.
Flyers frustrations continued at the start of the third period as more shots were fired at Machesney but none were of the calibre required to get past him.
And then came the collapse.
With the 50 minute mark approaching the Flyers defence got themselves hopelessly out of position during a four-on-four to leave Ash Goldie with the freedom of the slot to lash a wrist-shot past Pitton.
With Flyers spirits visibly crushed not even back-to-back powerplays could lift them – in fact they conceded a short-handed goal on both to turn a bad defeat into a horrific one.
Jeff Caister’s unfortunate slip was punished by Goldie, who picked up the loose puck, spotted Pitton out of position and shot into the unguarded net.
To complete Caister’s misery he was then out-muscled in a one-on-one with Robert Farmer who also deked past Pitton to tap the puck into the net.
Pitton’s dive knocked the goals off their moorings before the puck crossed the line, but the linesman who was up with play let the goal stand.
Not that it mattered, Flyers were beaten the moment Clan’s third goal went in. The mental toughness they’ve shown throughout a season playing mostly under-strength has been eroded.
Somehow, from somewhere, they have to get it back for these last three games or all the blood, sweat and tears will have been for nothing.
Clan scoring: Goldie (2+2) Hanson (1+1) Cescon, Farmer (1+0) Haywood (0+2) Birnstill, Galbraith (0+1).
Flyers scoring: Haines (1+0) J.Pitton, Hogg (0+1).
SOGs: Braehead (Machesney) 39; Fife (B.Pitton) 28.
PIMs: 6-26. Referee: R.Cowan. Attendance: 1501.
MATTHEW ELDER Twitter: @mattelder_ffp