Nottingham Panthers 5 Sheffield Steelers 1
A ROUTINE win over Fife Flyers tomorrow night will do little other than paper over the cracks of Sheffield Steelers’ title plans - such is the devastating effect of this Nottingham Panthers’ win.
Panthers might be incapable of winning the title themselves, but the perennial championship bridesmaids are more than happy to ruin the big day for the prospective bride they loath so much.
By losing twice to Belfast Giants the weekend before last, and then clobbering Sheffield on Saturday, Panthers have gone a long way towards securing a move across the Irish Sea for the Elite League trophy.
Sheffield have five games in hand over leaders Belfast, but are nine points adrift, and have to play the Irish three times.
In the form they showed at Nottingham, you certainly wouldn’t expect them to garner maximum points from those fixtures.
The less palatable, but more likely, forecast is that while Ryan Finnerty has built an entertaining, competitive squad in his rookie year as player- coach, he has not found the right chemistry to sustain a successful defence of the championship.
He certainly has not constructed a squad that is committed enough to live with the noisy neighbours of Nottingham. In six league meetings, Notts have won four times, and Saturday’s debacle was the THIRD time they have banged in five goals.
Meanwhile Belfast, who beat Fife 7-1 on Saturday, have overcome injury issues and are now riding on the wave of eight straight wins, a sequence which involves two wins at Nottingham, one at Sheffield and one at Braehead. Giants’ fans will feel there will have to be an astonishing sea-change, in form, for them to be denied now.
And they hope another win at Sheffield on March 2 will confirm their title hopes.
On Saturday, Sheffield looked like a team playing their fifth game in eight days, although they did take a lead through Jonathan Phillips.
Ironically it was a Power Play goal; an execution they failed to repeat despite eight subsequent attempts. Before then, David Clarke (10.03) Rhett Gordon (16.00) and Brock Wilson (17.17) had put Nottingham in the driving seat in front of nearly 7,000 fans.
David-Alexandre Beauregard made it 4-1 Panthers at 31.31 before Clarke got his second.
At the end of the night, Sheffield had been outshot 39-25, and on the end of a 5-1 hiding, but it was their season rather than local pride that had taken the most significant pummelling.