SYLVAIN Cloutier is calling on Hull Stingrays to “tighten up” in order to keep their Gardiner Conference dream alive.
Six of Hull’s remaining 10 games in the regular season are in their own Conference in which they are involved in a three-way race for the title with Scottish rivals Braehead Clan and Dundee Stars.
The Stingrays currently lead the five-strong northern group by one point from Braehead, who have one game in hand. Dundee are a point further behind but with three games in hand on player-coach Cloutier’s team.
With a game against Braehead in Hull on Wednesday night and three clashes with Dundee still to come, Hull remain in control of their own destiny with regard to landing the Conference title.
But recent losses to Braehead (8-4) and Fife Flyers (7-3) coupled with 21 goals being conceded in their last four Elite League matches, has given Cloutier cause to urge his team to end their defensive lapses in order to stand any chance of going into the play-offs with some silverware already in the bag.
“The amount of goals we have shipped in our last two Conference games does concern me,” said Cloutier.
“If we play solid as a unit of five at the back that’s when we are good. You’ve got to be solid defensively and you’ve got to want to compete. I’m not saying we didn’t compete against Fife and Braehead, but we made it too easy for them to score goals.
“You’ve got to make it hard for people to get to the net and we have to make sure we pay attention to the little details.”
Hull have a chance to gain revenge for the recent heavy home defeat to Fife when they head to Kirkcaldy on Sunday night, only after they have entertained Cardiff Devils in East Yorkshire.
While Hull are involved in a dogfight for Conference honours with their rivals north of the border, they are also involved in a battle with several teams within the overall Elite League standings, jostling fiercely with Cardiff and Coventry Blaze to seal the highest possible finish.
“We obviously want to stay ahead of Cardiff, nobody really wants to finish in eighth place overall,” added Cloutier, who turned 40 on Thursday.
“At the moment, from eighth through to second everything is very close, the teams in second or third place know that there are other teams that can still catch them so there are plenty of big games to come.
“Fife are a desperate team right now as they are trying to fight their way to a play-off spot, so that will be a particularly tough game.”
Given Wednesday’s first period defensive collapse in Braehead when Hull shipped five unanswered goals after taking an early lead on the powerplay through Jereme Tendler, Cloutier will no doubt be relieved to see defenceman Pavel Gomeniuk returning to the line-up, after work commitments ruled him out of the trip to Glasgow.
Kyle Mariani is ruled out, however, after he underwent an operation on Friday for a depressed fracture of the cheekbone he suffered during a fight in the loss to Fife, with forward Jason Silverthorn also missing through injury.
“We didn’t have our best seven or eight minutes during that first period in Braehead and that effectively cost us the game,” said Cloutier.
“We’re going to be two imports down but, to be honest, that’s been the case for most of the season so we’ll just have to find a way to fight through it once again.”