Steelers bench coach Neil Abel has stepped forward to take his share of the blame for his side’s faltering form against clubs higher in the league table.
Sheffield have been comprehensively beaten by Nottingham Panthers this season and looked decidedly second rate last Sunday in the Arena defeat to Belfast Giants.
Ironicially, Panthers host leaders Belfast both tomorrow and Sunday - and two road wins for the Irish would be a major blow for the rest of the chasing pack.
The unthinkable, worst case scenario is that Steelers lose both their games against Coventry Blaze (home leg is tomorrow 7pm) and find themselves 13 points behind Belfast with just six games in hand.
Abel said: “After 10 straight wins the Belfast result brought us down with a bang and we know we have to play better as a team.
“I am happy to take my share of any criticism. At one point I forgot that Ashley Tait had been injured and we were one short on the Power Play for 15 seconds or so. Luckily that did not cost us, but it could have done and that was my fault.
“While we do seem to have a mental blank when it comes to playing teams above us, I don’t think we have been out-coached. Maybe we should gee the guys up more for games like this - a game against Nottingham for instance is not just another game of hockey.
“Why do we need to tell them? Exactly! Everybody should show up for the big games. Every team loves to beat Sheffield and we have to remember that.”
Creative players like Jeff Legue and Mike Ramsay were largely invisible for the Belfast defeat, but Abel said: “You can’t expect two boys to carry the team, everybody has to put their 10 pennyworth in. I can see all the boys doing that this weekend and I can still see us going on to win the league.”
The coaching staff may want to look at their power play if they are going to achieve that.
They are down in sixth place in the table of top special teams, with a modest 16 per cent success rate, six per cent behind Belfast and Coventry.
Player assistant Ashley Tait sees the next few weeks as critical as to whether the club will be successful or not this season.
“Before last Sunday, we had three weeks been on the road and we have more of the same now,” he said.
“This month is going to make or break our season. We have Nottingham, Fife are getting better and Coventry are good in their own rink, so we have to be ready.
“Sometimes it’s tough to express to players that it doesn’t matter if it’s Dundee Stars, Fife Flyers or Nottingham Panthers we are playing - when we go in to their rink it is their biggest game of their year. There can be no switching off; there are no easy games,” said the injured winger.
“We will have to take points off Nottingham away and they have to play Belfast a couple of times. Cardiff and Coventry will have a say in who wins the title so it is a big month determining what’s going to happen.”