Elite League Takeaways: Shane Owen Faces 146 Shots, Stops 134

Shane Owen is off to Belfast Giants - but who can Fife add to their list of impressive goalies? (PHOTO: Panthers Images)

The race to qualify for the postseason in the Elite Ice Hockey League intensified in the final week of January, with the EIHL’s top three clubs reasserting their dominance over the chasing pack. Shane Owen, despite losing three-in-three, also had a weekend to remember.

Allow BIH to bring you up to speed after a weekend of power play goals, wonder-saves, and accusations of softness in the second edition of Elite League Takeaways.

1. Sheffield Steelers (23-4-1)

OTW: 3-2 v Glasgow Clan (26/1)

W: 3-1 v Fife Flyers (29/1)

W: 6-2 @ Fife Flyers (30/1)

It wasn’t the prettiest six-point week from Sheffield – although I doubt Steelers fans will be too worried about that, they remain top of the Elite League by a two-point margin with three games in hand.

On Sunday, the Steelers overturned a two-goal deficit to win big in Fife – a result that pleased assistant coach Carter Beston-Will.

“I’m super happy with that performance, it was a matter of sticking to it. Fife came out hard, they’ve had a tough schedule, Shane Owen was outstanding again – it was back-to-back nights where he faced 50 shots.”

Sheffield will aim to extend their winning run to five games next weekend, they face Dundee and Glasgow next.

2. Cardiff Devils (22-8-1)

W: 4-0 v Fife Flyers (28/1)

W: 5-1 v Nottingham Panthers (29/1)

“It was great to have our fans back,” Jarrod Skalde said after Cardiff’s 5-1 win over the Panthers on Saturday, “you can tell our players feed off them, the physicality this weekend was great. I thought we played with a lot of emotion and a lot of credit has to go to our fans.”

There’s a real feel-good factor around the Devils at the moment, especially following the relaxation of COVID-19 measures in Wales. Matt Register enjoyed another successful week on the blueline, putting up three points in two appearances.

Related: Elite League 2021-22 Mid-Season Awards

It was also a landmark weekend for Taran Kozun, who recorded a 20-save shutout – his first for Cardiff – versus Fife on Friday night. Riley Brandt, meanwhile, remains pointless four games into his Elite League career – although it feels like only a matter of time before he will find twine. The Devils face Belfast next, Brandt’s popularity will instantly rise if he pots on Friday.

3. Belfast Giants (21-7-0)

W: 6-1 v Coventry Blaze (29/1)

W: 3-0 v Coventry Blaze (30/1)

Adam Keefe’s Giants finished January on a high, scoring nine goals in two nights against Coventry. Belfast were dominant on Saturday, with Slater Doggett and Jordan Boucher scoring twice in the opening ten minutes to put the home side in the ascendancy.

The Giants found it trickier to break the deadlock on Sunday, although they still outshot the visiting side 31-27. Tyler Soy (above) scored the all-important opening goal after 32 minutes, gobbling up Sam Ruopp’s shot from the point. It’s hard to be too critical of a team when they win two-from-two, score nine, and only concede once. It was the perfect way to end the month for Belfast.

4. Nottingham Panthers (14-13-1)

L: 5-1 @ Cardiff Devils (29/1)

W: 5-2 v Dundee Stars (30/1)

There’s something especially satisfying about a one-timer on the rebound, right?

Well, even if you disagree, Jeremy Welsh’s strike was the difference-maker for Nottingham against Dundee on Sunday night. The win saw the Panthers snap their four-game losing streak, allowing them to look up the standings once more.

Nottingham face Fife and Glasgow on the road next weekend, returning to the East Midlands with four points would be a significant statement of intent.

5. Guildford Flames (11-14-4)

SOL: 4-3 @ Coventry Blaze (28/1)

OTW: 1-2 @ Glasgow Clan (29/1)

Paul Dixon’s Flames picked up three points on their travels this weekend and were only held back by their play at five-on-five versus the Blaze. Guildford were outshot 45-29 by Coventry, with two of their goals coming on the power play.

The Flames also enjoyed success on the penalty kill – sniffling Coventry’s five efforts on Friday night. Their strong form continued on Saturday, with Robert Lachowicz registering two points versus Glasgow. Jamal Watson, my pick for defenceman of the year (so far), scored too.

6. Glasgow Clan (10-11-4)

OTL: 3-2 @ Sheffield Steelers (26/1)

OTL: 1-2 v Guilford Flames (29/1)

L: 5-1 @ Manchester Storm (30/1)

Malcolm Cameron will have worse weeks behind Glasgow’s bench, he watched his side drop four points to end January. After defeat to the Storm, he said: “I give Manchester a lot of credit, they went to the hard areas, were very determined and skated hard. We didn’t match them.”

“One thing we talk about all the time is denying the front of our net and we gave up three goals in front of our net because we played soft. You can’t do that in a small rink, the game happens real fast.”

If there’s one thing hockey players hate being called, it’s soft – just ask Sheldon Keefe and the Toronto Maple Leafs. In light of Cameron’s comments, Glasgow’s defencemen might feel a little aggrieved – the team scored only twice over 120 minutes against the Storm and Flames. Moreover, they rank ninth in the Elite League for goals for this season.

There’s still work to be done in February for Glasgow.

7. Manchester Storm (11-16-2)

SOW: 3-4 @ Dundee Stars (29/1)

W: 5-1 v Glasgow Clan (30/1)

Now, this is how you score on the power play! The Storm took the lead versus Glasgow at five-on-four, working Ryan Finnerty’s set-play to perfection. Jared Vanworner’s PPG could be a turning point for Manchester, their success rate on the man-advantage (13.74%) is the worst in the Elite League.

“It was a frustrating night,” Finnerty said of the Strom’s win versus Dundee on Saturday. “I wish it just had a little bit more flow, there were just far too many penalties – both ways – from the start to the finish.”

For the record, Manchester were penalised eight times, compared to Dundee’s six. Both teams scored on the power play. Whistles galore.

8. Coventry Blaze (10-12-2)

SOW: 4-3 v Guilford Flames (28/1)

L: 6-1 @ Belfast Giants (29/1)

L: 3-0 @ Belfast Giants (30/1)

Coventry’s week wasn’t as bad as it looks on paper. Danny Stewart’s team secured an important win against the Flames – albeit via a shootout – and put in a much-improved performance versus the Giants on Sunday. Remember, Belfast’s third goal was an empty-netter.

Heading into February, the Blaze need to address their power play. They scored zero power play goals on 14 attempts last week (5 v GUI, 5 v BEL, 4 v BEL) – which, however you look at it, isn’t good enough. Coventry’s ineffectiveness at five-on-four is costing them games, Stewart will be keen for his team to put that right versus Manchester next weekend.

On the bright side, C.J. Motte is still doing C.J. Motte things – he pulled off an incredible save on Sunday.

9. Dundee Stars (10-14-2)

SOL: 3-4 v Manchester Storm (29/1)

L: 5-2 @ Nottingham Panthers (30/1)

After Sunday’s road loss to Nottingham, Dundee head coach Omar Pacha said: “I just don’t think we had enough offensively in the third period and some parts of the second. Even when we did, we didn’t capitalise.”

The Dundee Stars didn’t create enough opportunities versus the Nottingham Panthers (via eliteleague.co.uk)

The Star’s shot map from their 5-2 defeat tells the same story. Although Dundee took the majority of their shots from the slot, they didn’t create enough opportunities to outdo their hosts. Only winning 27% of offensive zone face-off draws didn’t help either.

10. Fife Flyers (6-21-1)

L: 4-0 @ Cardiff Devils (28/1)

L: 3-1 @ Sheffield Steelers (29/1)

L: 6-2 v Sheffield Steelers (30/1)

Shane Owen Stars for Fife:

Fife netminder Shane Owen faced 146 shots over the course of the weekend, conceding 12 goals. The Canadian is playing lights-out for the Flyers, he just needs more support from the skaters ahead of him. “Obviously, we’re disappointed as an organisation,” assistant coach Jeff Hutchins said on Sunday, “certainly in the first period, the guys gave everything they could to race out to a two-nil lead.”

January was rough on Fife; they went 0-10-1 and lost significant ground in the playoff race as a result. However, they played the Elite League’s top four clubs eight times and have an easier run of fixtures coming up. Maybe their form will turn in February?

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