NETMINDER Christian Boucher believes Hull Stringrays have to ‘act responsbily’ more often if they are to seal a post-season play-off berth in the Elite League.
The Stingrays are currently sat in the eighth and final play-off spot with their league campaign at the halfway point as they head into a hectic festive schedule of three games in as many days, starting with Tuesday night’s trip to ‘sister’ club Coventry Blaze.
Paul Thompson then brings his team into Hull for a return match on Wednesday night (7.30pm) before second-placed Nottingham Panthers visit East Yorkshire on Thursday (7.30pm).
A 4-2 win over Edinburgh for struggling Dundee Stars on Boxing Day saw them close the gap on Hull to six points with a game in hand, as the race to make the post-season begins to gather pace.
Sylvain Cloutier’s team broke a seven-game losing streak with a 5-1 home win over Edinburgh last week, ending a depressing run on the back of an improved, all-round defensive game, which limited the Capitals to 26 chances - encouragingly less than the 35.1 attempts per game Boucher faces on average.
The Edinburgh victory saw Hull adopt the kind of gameplan usually reserved for the bigger clubs such as Belfast, Nottingham and Sheffield - an approach Boucher believes the team should put into action more often, regardless of the opposition.
“Against the likes of Sheffield, Coventry and the other top teams, we play a bit more responsibly in our D zone - we tend to wait more for our chances,“ said Boucher.
“Maybe against the lower-end teams that are around us we try to do too much (offensively) and then get caught out. I think maybe we’ve got to play the same way against those lower teams as we do against the Sheffields and the Nottinghams.
“It was important to go into the Christmas schedule with a win - it’s great for confidence. It’s not like we’ve been playing terrible hockey, but we have been making a lot of mistakes.
“Beating Edinburgh last week was great - if we want to catch them in the standings, we’ve got to actually start beating them, so it was good to do that eventually. We’ve also got to start putting some distance between ourselves and Dundee.
“We reduced the grade-A chances against Edinburgh and it’s the grade-A chances that we’ve been giving up more since we’ve been short on bodies.
“I’ve faced a lot of shots this year and I’ve faced some frustrating moments with our defensive play. So I was happy to keep it to one goal against Edinburgh and under 30 shots on goal, that was much better.”
And while 28-year-old Boucher aims to play his part in keeping things tight at one end of the ice, he hopes the contribution at the other end from forwards such as the in-form Jereme Tendler will continue to grow.
Second-top goalscorer in the league last season with 51 goals, 28-year-old Tendler had a relatively quiet start to the season. But an explosion of 10 goals in five games - two in last week’s win over Edinburgh - has catapulted him up to second spot in the goalscoring charts.
“Jereme is on fire right now and his confidence is right up there,“ added Boucher.
“People have been talking as if he’s not been such a good season, but he’s like joint-second in the league for goals.
“We build our team a little bit around him and last year we relied on him heavily. If we can bear down, play some strong D and keep the puck out of our net, we know we can rely on him to score goals.
“Our third goal against Edinburgh last week on a breakaway was the crucial goal and was just classic Jereme - it was beautiful to see.”
Hull head into the Skydome Arena on Tuesday night to face the league’s hottest team, with Coventry boasting a six-game winning streak. With Nottingham also in decent form - buoyed by inflicting a 5-3 defeat on Sheffield Steelers in South Yorkshire on Boxing Day - it will be a tough three days for Cloutier’s team.
“With there being two home games, I think we should be able to win one of them,” said Boucher.
“We always get pumped up for Coventry games. They are one of those teams that I feel should be challenging for first place- we’ve talked a few times about how good they are on paper.
“I’ll be a little bit realistic and if we can get maybe three maybe out of the six points on offer we’ll have done well.”