Braehaed Clan 3 Fife Flyers 2
Fife Flyers succumbed to Braehead Clan for the first time in the Elite League this season as the Renfrew side claimed victory at the sixth attempt last night.
It was a close game, and the marginally better team on the night won, with Flyers falling short of the level of performance that enabled them to previously dominate this fixture, while Clan were an improved outfit, both in terms of their discipline and overall play.
With Russ Moyer injured and Brady Ramsay MIA having returned to Canada to attend to family matters, Flyers were left one import down, and the decision was taken to double shift import forwards rather than maintain three lines and give a regular slot to a Brit.
For short-benched hockey to work, Fife need every import to play at or near their best, but that was not the case at Braehead Arena, with too many off their game.
The sides meet again in Kirkcaldy tonight, and Flyers will need to claw back the two points to prevent their rivals from drawing level at the top of the conference.
For that to happen, there will need to be a rethink as a repeat of last night probably won't be good enough.
Head coach Todd Dutiaume admitted the performance fell short of the team's capabilities.
"It wasn't our worst performance but it also wasn't our best," he said.
"We were short but they were short of guys too and only running with eight forwards themselves, but I thought they played a disciplined game.
"They had three guys above the puck all night long and skated well right to the end.
"It's important to note that we didn't covert our chances. We had a couple of two-on-ones and a three-on-one, and we passed up prime shooting opportunities, which we've taken more in the past.
"Our game is a simple game of skating and hard work and if that falls off the mark for a while it's glaringly obvious, but in these tight games you have to take your chances.
"I really feel the rest of the way out it's going to be this tight."
The winning goal was scored by Clan's recently acquired defenceman, Felix-Antoine Poulin, who Dutiaume feels has given Clan an extra dimension.
"He gives them a new dynamic in their line-up which we're going to have to adjust to and be prepared for," he said.
"He was jumping into the play all night and it makes a difference. Hutch showed them the tape before the game and they should have been ready for it.
"Seeing in on tape and seeing it on the ice is two different things so we'll make the adjustment and be ready for it tomorrow."
The match started in typically frantic fashion, with a noisy 3400 crowd treated to some end-to-end hockey.
Despite finishing goalless, the first period was an engrossing affair with both netminders making key saves, Ryan Nie in particular getting a glove down to his post to prevent Evan Bloodoff opening the scoring, while Andy Iles twice prevented Clan scoring on a breakaway chance.
The teams had been evenly matched throughout the first, but Clan were beginning to get the edge in period two, skating and hitting harder, and they were rewarded with an opening goal on 30.36.
Defenceman Christoffer Bjorklund joined the attack, skating over the blue line unopposed before picking his spot high over Iles left shoulder.
Flyers were now struggling to find tape with passes, constantly giving it away cheaply in a strangely off-colour performance, and it was difficult to see where a goal would come from at this stage.
However, the visitors took advantage of their only powerplay of the night to get themselves back on track, Carlo Finucci turning the puck home at the back post on 35.28.
Flyers would have been relatively happy with the 1-1 scoreline having been posted missing for most of the second period, but the away side upped their game at the start of the third, taking the lead on 42.47 through a Danick Gauthier wraparound effort, who had two stabs at the puck before it eventually crossed the line.
Had Flyers knuckled down and kicked on from here, we may have been talking about an altogether different outcome, but they allowed Clan back into the game almost instantly as Adam Brace converted from close range to make it 2-2 a minute later.
That allowed Clan to regain the upper hand and Poulin put them 3-2 ahead on 48.24. Flyers had a face-off in the Clan zone, but they were caught out on the break as Poulin's backhand effort deflected into the net off a Fife stick.
Having looked subdued for long spells, Flyers upped their energy levels in the closing stages to chase an equaliser, but often infuriated their fans with poor decision-making, and by over-playing the puck when clear shooting opportunities presented themselves.
The closest they came to forcing overtime was when Chase Schaber found Bloodoff in front of a gaping net but Nie performed miracles with a sprawling save to keep the puck out.
Iles was withdrawn for the final minute and a half, but Flyers finished the game scrambling around in their own end trying to prevent Clan scoring an empty netter.
The night belonged to Clan. The conference, however, remains Fife's to lose.