Fife Flyers collapse as Cardiff Devils inflict sixth straight defeat
Fife Flyers 3 Cardiff Devils 8
You don't become a bad team overnight but in six games Fife Flyers have certainly lost their way.
A tight-knit, well-drilled team that was riding high in second position, and considered a genuine title challenger just a few weeks ago, is now struggling to prevent the roof from caving in.
The strong-willed side of this Fife team was evident in the opening half hour of this league game as they snuffed out a dangerous Cardiff Devils and skated into a 2-0 lead.
It could have been a turning point, the end of the losing streak before it became a major issue, but the brittle nature that has seeped into the side took over at the first sign of adversity.
Seven unanswered goals conceded within 18 minutes - the sixth was the catalyst for loud boos across the rink - was simply unacceptable, whether on home ice or not.
Afterwards Todd Dutiaume worryingly pointed to a single mistake for Cardiff's opener as the start of the domino effect that toppled his team's confidence.
"A silly turnover on the half-wall, something we've really worked hard at correcting, was really hard to recover from," he said.
"Guys seem to really be on eggshells right now, afraid to make mistakes, whereas earlier in the season we we were making mistakes, but weren't punished as much.
"A few weaknesses are getting picked out and we're paying the price for it."
The opening period was goalless and largely lifeless as the teams focused more on cancelling each other out.
The game was there for whichever team raised the tempo in the second period, and initially, Fife took the initiative, striking first blood just 29 seconds after the restart as Carlo Finucci set up Marcus Basara for a back post finish.
Fife kept on the front foot and were rewarded in the 29th with a second goal, with Basara involved again, setting up Finucci for a shot that bounced and bobbled into the net off goalie Ben Bowns' stick.
Thoughts were now turning towards a victory, and a steadying of the ship, but everything changed a minute later.
Rick Pinkston fired a pass from behind his own net straight to Gleason Fournier who punished the error with backhand finish beyond Shane Owen.
It was a setback that would have been shaken off a month ago, but such is the current fragility, it struck a blow through the heart of the Fife team.
Two goals were lost in 30 seconds to Justin Faryna and Mike Hedden, turning a 2-1 lead into a 3-2 deficit, with Fife's defence nowhere near both skaters.
Flyers called a time-out to try and stop the bleed, but a powerplay goal from Joey Martin on 37.20 put Cardiff two ahead going into the third period.
Dutiaume asked the refs for a video review, with claims Martin had been in the crease when he turned the puck home, but the request was denied.
With players simply going through the motions, it would take more than a washed out goal to save Fife now.
The exasperation in the stands turned to anger in period three as Fife continued to leak goals in quick succession.
Another Devils double within 30 seconds saw Hedden and Joey Haddad take the scoring to six without reply, and for the third home match in a row Fife were booed on home ice.
The seventh unanswered goal on 48.35 saw Sam Duggan became the latest to take advantage of the lack of presence in front of a now deflated Owen.
If it was a boxing match the bench would have thrown in the towel at this point. Some fans certainly did, as they left their seats having decided they had seen enough.
"It's tough to see people walk out of the building early, but I don't blame them," Dutiaume said.
Flyers pulled one back through Paul Crowder on 54.15 but that simply prompted Cardiff to raise the tempo again and Layne Ulmer made it 8-3 before the end.
Dutiaume admitted that the current form could lead to replacements being drafted in.
"It's apparent we need to consider it," he responded. "We've been looking for players for a while now but the market has been unfavourable to us."
Fife now travel to Manchester today looking to avoid a seventh straight defeat.
They will be hoping they can become a good team again overnight.