Player-coach Riley Emmerson has called for “a standout performance” from blue-liner Kyle Bigos ahead of Edinburgh Capitals’ crucial Elite league clash with Coventry Blaze at Murrayfield tonight (face off 5.30pm).
The Caps take on their closest challengers for a play-off place without defensive lynchpin Jacob Johnston who has missed the last two games with a lower body injury and utility player Nate Fleming, who this week quit the club to return to Canada for personal reasons.
Fleming informed Emmerson of his decision last week and played his final game in Sunday’s 4-3 win over Sheffield Steelers which snapped a nine-game losing streak.
Capitals have moved swiftly to plug the gap and have signed Nikita Kolesnikovs, a Latvian. The 6ft 4in 23-year-old represented his country at junior level in the 2012 World Championships and was recently with Odense Bulldogs of the AL-Bank Ligaen in Denmark.
Emmerson said: “Nate leaving is a bit of a blow, to be honest. He did things that often went unnoticed and could play both forward and ‘D’ but we have been talking about making changes and he wanted to go home and into the real world so I wish him all the best.”
Coventry, who beat Caps’ 4-2 in the Skydome in their only other meeting this season, hold the eighth and final play-off spot, three points ahead of Edinburgh with a significant four games in hand over the Murrayfield men.
Emmerson continued: “When we played them last, we were so far ahead of the play we left their guys wide open. We need to take care of the puck and also their top players. They have a goalie who, when he’s hot is very good, so we need to get in his face early and, as he’s a big guy, get him moving from side to side. More importantly we need to worry about our own game and our ‘team first’ mentality. If we play like that, we will give ourself a chance to win every game.
“With Johnston out, the rest of us back there need to be better, guys like Kyle Bigos, Kyle Flemington and myself. This could be a big weekend for Biggie to take the reins and be our standout defensive guy. He’s a very good player and, if he rises to the challenge, he could have a hell of a game and play a big part in an important weekend.”
Crucial to a good Capitals performance could be secret information shared by recent signing Ned Lukacevic. Released by Coventry earlier this season, the well-travelled Canadian is excited by the prospect of facing his old team but sees it only as an opportunity to pick up two important league points rather than getting one over on his previous employers.
Lukacevic said: “This is just a big game for our team, a huge two points. I don’t want to look at it any other way, take it personally, or try and do anything out of the norm just because I’m playing an old team where it didn’t work out.
“Riley and I have had several discussions throughout the week so we’re going to be well prepared. They’re a hard-working team who are playing well right now. We’ve just come off a big win too which changes the whole vibe around the rink and puts smiles on people’s faces. We’ve got a chance to take four points this weekend, hopefully nothing less and that puts us right back in the mix again.”
Lukacevic, who has scored in his last two games for the club and netted the winning penalty in last week’s shoot-out win over Sheffield, admitted it was tough to move teams mid-season but the former Fife Flyer – where he averaged more than a point a game in 18 months at the club – feels he is improving game-on-game.
He continued: “Coming into a new team – with new faces – is hard. You’ve got to tip-toe around a little bit, get to know everyone and you lose your confidence a little, I feel I’m slowly getting that back. As time goes on, I’m getting better but now is the time I need to start turning it on.”
Coventry Blaze captain Ashley Tait is set for a landmark weekend. If he ices against Capitals tonight it will be his 699th appearance in all Elite League competitions. And if he then plays against Cardiff Devils tomorrow, he will become only the sixth player to make 700 appearances. He said: “I am still enjoying playing. If you didn’t get the excitement or the goose bumps then you wouldn’t be doing it. It is something I have been doing since I was five. It is a great job have.”