Uncharacteristic Flyers drift to defeat against Dundee
Fife Flyers 1 Dundee Stars 4
Losing poor goals then allowing a game drift away is not a trait you would associate with Fife Flyers this season.
But then tonight's performance against Dundee Stars was uncharacteristic of a team that normally doesn't know it's beaten.
Comebacks have been a strong feature of the team's success this season, but on this occasion, there seemed an inevitability about the defeat as the game drifted to its conclusion.
Flyers had the chance to claim third place outright in the EIHL standings, but disappointingly, a Stars side fighting for their play-off lives were simply hungrier for the points.
Head coach Todd Dutiaume was pleased with the first period, and rightly so as Flyers held the upper hand and opened up a 1-0 lead, but he admitted that the performance levels nose-dived thereafter, as the team failed to bounce back from a losing a couple of soft goals.
"We started out okay and other than being flat on the powerplay I thought we had a strong first period," he said.
"The second and third goals were pretty big deflaters, and it was probably game over at that point.
"We didn't have the type of performances out of guys that is really indicative of this club."
Dutiaume suggested that the team is still perhaps trying to shake off the comedown from lifting the Gardiner Conference title.
"We won that conference title a few weeks ago now and haven't really been the same since," he said.
"Performances have been lacklustre. It could be because they feel it's mission accomplished, or maybe they are feeling sorry for themselves because we're low on a few bodies.
"Either way, we just didn't have that push-back tonight and we had guys out there just drifting around
"We looked for a response and just didn't have it. Guys need to wake up."
The game was Flyers fourth in seven days, but with the relentless action continuing with another two fixtures over the weekend, Dutiaume flatly rejected any notion that his players' lack of sharpness was down to tiredness.
"It's not fatigue," he said.
Flyers are still nursing their way through injury troubles, as well as a ridiculous schedule, as they again started without first choice netminder Andy Iles, top scorer Evan Bloodoff and key defenceman Ian Young.
However, the epidemic eased somewhat with the return of Liam Heelis from the knock picked up against Manchester Storm last Saturday, which kept him out of the defeat in Milton Keynes on Sunday, and the victory at home to Edinburgh on Tuesday.
With Danick Gauthier playing the second match of his comeback, the Fife line-up had a much healthier look than of late as they carried seven import forwards for the first time since that fateful first period against Nottingham Panthers a fortnight ago.
Flyers looked up for the battle in the early stages as they forced the play into the Stars zone, and they were rewarded with a deserved, albeit fortuitous opener in the ninth minute as Carlo Finucci's intended pass from behind the net was turned into his own net by goaltender Travis Fullerton.
Taking that slender lead into the first period break was scant reward as Flyers passed up opportunities to strengthen their grip on the game, particularly on the powerplay after Chris Lawrence was ejected on a five plus game misconduct for a crude cross-check into the back of James Isaacs after the play stopped.
Isaacs spent a minute face-down on the ice, and was attended to by the club doctor, before slowly getting back to his feet and heading back to the bench. Thankfully, there was no lasting damage and the defenceman soon returned to the ice.
Flyers failed to take advantage of the five-minute powerplay, with laboured set up play matched by a wayward final pass, and they were made to pay for it in the second period as Stars turned the game on its head.
The equaliser arrived on the powerplay as the visitors succeeded where Fife failed with crisp passing setting up a shooting chance for Anthony Mastrodicasa and he drilled it through traffic and past an unsighted Jordan Marr from inside the point.
Flyers responded with a spell of pressure, but they were lacking the sharp touch required to turn end zone possession into goals with pucks either miscontrolled at the crucial moment, or the final pass failing to land on the sweet spot.
Flyers' focus certainly drifted as the second period drew to a close, with Marr saving brilliantly from a Jordan Cownie breakaway only to be beaten rather too easily seconds later as Jimmy Jensen rifled a shot past him from the right.
Flyers needed the break to regroup and they thought they'd equalised straight after the restart as the crowd roared, Shayne Stockton took to his knee in celebration, but the shot had landed in the side net, and play raged on.
A goal did arrive quickly afterwards, however it came at the other end as Gabriel Lévesque's shot initially looked a routine save for Marr, only for the puck to reappear behind him and slither over the line. A tough one to take for the back-up netminder, and a bitter blow for the team as the focus turned to salvaging something from the game.
However, on this occasion, Fife did not have the fight in them to mount a serious comeback and any flickering hope all but evaporated on the 49 minute mark as a shot from Malcolm Gould straight off the draw flew past Marr's outstretched glove for 1-4.
It had turned into a frustrating night, particularly for Isaacs who was one of the few who still looked up for the fight, and that boiled over as the referees deemed that the defenceman led with an elbow as he crumpled Lukas Lundwald into the plexi, sparking a mini riot behind the Fife net.
Isaacs was handed a 2+2+10 for elbows and roughing, Stars went on the PP, and more time slipped by. In truth, Flyers could've played all night and not recovered the game, such was their inability to penetrate the Stars defence with any conviction.
With play-offs looming ever larger on the horizon, the team needs to get back to basics, starting in Manchester tomorrow.