An inspired performance from Fife Flyers netminder Shane Owen was the catalyst for their 4-3 win over the Edinburgh Capitals, a result that saw the Murrayfield men lose further ground on Dundee and Coventry in the hunt for the final play-off spot.
Looking to carry on the momentum from registering just their second away league win of the season in Braehead on Saturday night, it was Edinburgh who had the lion’s share of the early play. Their first inroad of note saw the impressive Ian Schultz find Mason Wilgosh out in front but Owen was there to make the save with the pad, commencing a familiar theme in the process.
Edinburgh, without Taylor MacDougall and Rihards Grigors, did at least welcome back Jared Staal on Saturday night and his first home outing since late December brought an early chance as his effort on goal was saved at the near post by Owen.
The pressure didn’t end there. A Yevgeni Fyodorov slapshot kept Fife on their toes as the Capitals sought the quick start. After Edinburgh failed to capitalise on an early power play chance, the Flyers would force Travis Fullerton into work for the first time with Mathew Sisca’s drive well gloved.
But back came a relentless Capitals side who nearly cashed in following a cheap turnover in the Fife defensive zone. It was well worked in truth as Matt Tipoff and Pavel Vorobyev fashioned an opening from the blue line for player/coach Michal Dobron but once again Owen was there to claim.
He had to be alert on the next series as the tricky Vorobyev attempted to round the Fife netminder out in front but he did just enough to narrow the angle and then smother the puck before the Russian forward could steer home.
Both sides began to trade chances as Sebastien Thinel nearly played the inch perfect pass for Sisca who couldn’t quite control from a promising position before Russ Moyer flashed over after Fullerton had made an initial save.
And Fife were inches away from lighting the lamp on a swift breakaway as the unfortunate Sisca, with Fullerton beaten, slammed an effort off the underside of the bar and away to safety. Despite the protestations of the player himself and the Flyers bench, the officials said no goal. It looked to be a good no call.
Things got a little heated as period one wound to a close which, given the rivalry between the sides, was to be expected. Phil Paquet and Garrett Milan were both handed minor penalties for roughing but the Capitals would begin the second frame on the man advantage after Chase Schaber was penalised for tripping in the same sequence of events.
Unable to connect on the man advantage, Fife would break the deadlock against the run of play with just under three minutes played in period two. It was well worked from the visitors’ perspective though as Bryan Cameron’s neat feed got the finish it deserved with Moyer firing home.
It commenced a crazy few minutes as both sides saw a succession of chances come and go. Carlo Finucci and Brendan Brooks would go close for Fife, the latter forcing Fullerton into a save with his shoulder. Up the other end Tyler Plews’ drive was well blocked by Owen and then Karel Hromas went close after neat stick work by Schultz had created an opening.
But then came a key turning point. Capitals player/coach Dobron was assessed a game penalty for slew-footing, and could now face a ban, with Fife on a long five minute power play and Jay King sitting the penalty in Dobron’s absence.
Initially Edinburgh did well to limit Fife, helped by strong coverage in the defensive zone that characterised what was, largely, a much improved defensively display compared to previous weeks. Five minutes though is a long time to withstand wave after wave of attacks and the visitors would, perhaps inevitably, add a second as Justin Fox collected Cameron’s inviting pass and fired home on the power play from a similar position to Fife’s opening goal.
Yet the Capitals refused to throw the towel in and they were given a route back into the game following a series of penalties. Having failed to take advantage of an initial 5 on 3 chance, they were soon presented with another and this time there was no mistake.
You sensed the hosts had to strike and that they did. Patient build up play saw the Capitals work it to captain Jacob Johnston, and his effort on net through a screen had the desired effect as Schultz got enough on the redirect to halve the deficit at 2-1 with 4:07 to go.
2-1 nearly became 2-2 before the period was out but for all Edinburgh’s superiority in the shot department they failed to make their dominance count. It wasn’t for the want of trying though as Staal nearly tipped Michael D’Orazio’s effort on goal into the net.
They were to rue those missed chances barely thirty seconds into the final period and it was a soft way to concede in truth. Brooks instigated a quick rush and despite Fife fanning on the initial back-door chance, to their credit, they kept the puck alive. Following a scramble in the Edinburgh crease up stepped Schaber from close range to re-establish the Flyers’ two goal cushion.
It gave Edinburgh a mountain to climb and rather undid the good defensive work from the opening two periods. Things nearly got worse before they got better though with the Capitals having Fullerton to thank on a 2-on-1 chance soon afterwards. Fox fed Brooks with a neat square pass but Fullerton reacted well at the back post to keep it out.
That near miss seemed to refocus the Capitals who were on the penalty kill soon afterwards following a slashing call against Staal. They would go close not once, but twice to registering short-handed as Fife again had star man Owen to thank for two fine saves.
The first save was highlight reel stuff as he managed to do enough to divert a deflected Schultz effort away despite being wrong-footed. Fife’s willingness to commit bodies on rushes nearly cost them dear when Hromas connected with Johnston on the one-on-one chance but Owen again stood tall against the odds.
Back at full strength, Edinburgh had a stroke of good fortune when Fife forced a turnover behind the hosts’ net and worked it out in front for Paquet, only for his stick to snap as he readied himself for the shot.
But that proved to a momentary respite for Fife and Owen as back the Capitals came with Vorobyev firing through the legs of Kyle Haines but again Edinburgh were thwarted.
Fife nearly put the gloss on an efficient road win with Sisca hitting the post for the second time on the night, but finally Edinburgh’s pressure took its toll with 4:32 to go to set up a breathless finale.
Milan fed Schultz and he found just enough room to flash an effort past Owen for 3-2, his second goal of the night. We looked to be in for a grandstand finish but Fife quickly doused any attempts at a late rally from the Capitals by adding a fourth just over a minute later.
Fife worked it well with Moyer and Thinel creating the chance for Finucci and he fired the puck high past Fullerton for 4-2 with 3:38 to go. It summed up a frustrating night for the Capitals as the Flyers connected for a fourth time on just 19 shots.
That was far from the final action of the game though as Edinburgh pulled Fullerton, with a minute and change to go, in favour of an extra skater. And after Vorobyev was denied by the superb Owen, the Capitals would connect again with 38 seconds left.
Fyodorov positioned himself perfectly to sweep home the rebound after the puck had been thrown on net, making the game 4-3 in the process but despite Edinburgh’s best efforts, and despite outshooting Fife 38-19, the Capitals would leave empty handed.
In the end they must make do with a two point weekend but defeat means they remain rooted to the bottom of the table and lose further ground on both Dundee and Coventry above them. Dundee’s four point weekend and Coventry’s point by virtue of an overtime loss to Sheffield, mean the Capitals are now six points adrift of the final play-off spot in 8th ahead of the next round of fixtures.
They can take heart from a solid display at both ends of the ice but that will be of little comfort to a side that know they are fast approaching must-win territory.
Captain Jacob Johnston provided an honest assessment of the performance acknowledging the defeat as a missed opportunity to keep pace with the sides around them, despite the largely positive display.
“He [Shane Owen] played pretty well. I thought we put a lot of pucks to the net today, a lot of shots actually and we played really well offensively and we played well defensively for two periods. I thought we were trying to make an offensive run in the third to try and get the game back in control and gave up a little bit defensively. Overall it was a good team performance.
“Absolutely it was a missed opportunity [not to register a four point weekend]. We really wanted those two points regardless of how we played. We played well in Braehead and we played well tonight but, like I’ve said before, it’s getting to that point in the season where we just have to win. We come back to the room and we’re happy with how we played but at the end of the day if we don’t get those two points we’re not doing our job. It’s a little disappointing as we are playing well.
“That’s the hard part [putting pucks in the net]. We did play well, we played a great game and the puck bounces didn’t go our way at times. The only thing I think I can say is in the third period we maybe pushed too offensively and gave them a couple of opportunities to score. In the future maybe we should control the game a little bit more, wait for our chances and be a little more patient. But overall it was a good game and Fife just came out on top.
“I’d be lying if I said we didn’t have our eye on the other teams at the bottom of the league because we have to pass them to get into the play-offs, but at the same time we go into every single game, no matter who it is, trying to earn those two points.”