The Belfast Giants suffered a blow to their Elite League title hopes on Saturday night as they crashed to a 4-1 defeat by the Sheffield Steelers at the Odyssey Arena.
It was a flat performance by Doug Christiansen’s side, their worst since losing 5-1 at home to the same side back in October.
On that occasion it was the first game of a doubleheader and the Giants were able to strike back immediately winning the second game 3-0.
However, this loss will linger all week and around the locker room after the game there were nothing but long faces and a lot of head scratching was being done.
There will be a number of issues for the Giants to deal with before the Dundee Stars visit on Friday night.
They were incredibly sloppy in their own end, turning the puck over and on many occasions defencemen were bailed out by the outstanding goaltending of Stephen Murphy.
Physically they were outmuscled, what was worrying is that they showed little appetite for the fight and their powerplay was inept going 0-for-8.
They had two longish 5-on-3 advantages and failed to score.
By contrast when given the same chance the Steelers beat Murphy with a Jeff Legue blast.
That made it 2-0 Steelers and came just before the second intermission.
Another powerplay goal from Steven Goertzen earlier in the period had opened the scoring although it came after a terrible slashing call on the Giants Graeme Walton.
Ashley Tait ripped home the third goal early in the final period and although in the dying minutes Daymen Rycroft spoilt the shutout bid of the impressive John DeCaro the scoring was completed with the empty netter by Simon Ferguson.
Afterwards Christiansen gave a measured response to his side’s performance.
“Give Sheffield credit, they played a great game, we clearly didn’t and they came in here desperate for the two points and they got them,” he said.
“Obviously there are some areas of the game that are more disappointing than others but we are going to have to get better as a hockey team if we want to accomplish our goals.”
He added: “They are a team that is built to be a bit more physical than we are and we talked about that before the game that they would hit us all over the rink.
“We needed our skill players to come through and we needed to put the puck in the net when they vacated space to finish hits.
“We also needed to get to the dirty areas and bury our chances and we didn’t do that.
“So now we move on.”
The result kept Sheffield alive in the title race but left the Giants six points behind the Nottingham Panthers although they do have two games in hand.