The Cardiff Devils go into their long road trip in the Champions Hockey League, just two points (and goal difference) away from second place in Group G.
SC Bern sit top of the Group with five points from one win and one overtime win, the Växjö Lakers and Red Bull Salzburg occupy the second and third spot, with the Lakers second through goal difference, while the Devils currently sit in last place with a loss and an overtime loss giving them a point.
A first period blitz from Red Bull Salzburg was enough for the Austrian side to seal the victory on Thursday night, and then last night the Devils were able to take one point in an overtime loss, in a game that in reality they deserved more points than they got.
In both games the Devils faced incredibly tough opponents, in what is possibly the toughest group of the CHL, and a 5 – 2 scoreline on Thursday was not a true reflection of the game, and after Andrew Ebbett scored 50 seconds into overtime, you can argue the Devils deserved more than the point.
Coming in with expectations against them, the Devils can almost play without too much pressure, but they’re putting the pressure on themselves to go out and cause a few European upsets like they did last year.
One thing that is clicking straight away are the special teams, with the powerplay coming up effective on 21.43% of their chances, and the times they haven’t been able to convert they’ve looked deadly, just come up against two very hot goaltenders.
In their first game against Salzburg they outshot their opponents, but with a lot of shots from in tight, Lukas Herzog was square to almost every chance, but two poorly timed poke checks allowed the Devils in, first with Layne Ulmer scoring from out in front on the powerplay, and secondly from Mike Hedden on a break away. Other than that, Herzog was a brick wall.
In game two they faced the best Switzerland had to offer, Leonardo Genoni, who’s been around for a while and been outstanding for just as long, but the Devils gave him a hell of a work out.
The passing ability the Devils displayed over these past two games has been impeccable, forcing both netminders to move post to post, and make the opposition defenseman chase the game.
Mike Hedden has had two stand out performances, scoring a goal in each game, and he’s really turning into one of the teams most reliable forwards, and just one of four great additions this summer by Andrew Lord.
But it’s not just a solid offence that’s been unfortunate with how good the opposing netminders have been, but defensively they’ve been great too.
Mark Richardson has put in two of the best defensive displays of his lengthy career, shutting down the opposition while also showing off his offensive abilities, grabbing a powerplay goal last night.
Despite a couple of penalties in game one, Ben Blood is showing exactly why he managed to last in the Finnish Liiga for three years, punishing opponents with his unforgivably heavy hits, but also having the presence of mind to shut down the play with his active stick and positioning, as well as being able to make a great first pass to set the Devils up on a rush.
Ben Bowns as well has grown in confidence in the net, he looked a little shaky to start the game against Salzburg, but since then has been outstanding, pulling off some of his signature highlight reel saves, and even when it’s looked like a rebound might be about to slip past him, his defence has been first on the loose puck to clear away the danger.
The team as a whole look like they’re all playing for each other, and if they can continue this going into the EIHL season, there’s no reason why they won’t be up their again to try and go for their third straight league title.
All in all, the Devils are buying into Andrew Lord’s system, they’re really out to prove that the EIHL can skate with the rest of Europe, and this year is different to last. You could be forgiven if you thought the rest of the teams took the Devils and Nottingham Panthers lightly last year, but after the success the two sides were able to generate (especially Nottingham) no team is going to come into a game against a British team expecting an easy win.
The Devils may not have picked up a win yet, but Salzburg and Bern have had to work hard to get the win, and with a lengthy road trip coming up which gives that extra incentive to try and upset some of the best Europe has to offer in their own barn, don’t be surprised to see the Devils continue to impress and try and steal a win or two.
Featured Image Credit: CardiffDevils.com