Sheffield Steelers 1 Cardiff Devils 7
FOR Steelers' fans with a nervous disposition, look away now.
For this story might just the obituary on the team's league title chances.
Against all-conquering Cardiff, they weren't just beaten by a better side. They were pulverised by the apparent champions-in-waiting.
At the least, this rout on Arena ice puts Steelers' title hopes in context...they need something much better to keep even remotely close to Devils. At worst, it ruthlessly exposes weaknesses in Ben Simon's side.
Devils are now four points ahead of Sheffield, but last night they it looked more like 40.
The Welsh arrived in town on the back of a 19-league game winning streak. To a man, they looked absolutely brimming with confidence. You could tell from the fire in their eyes they were looking to extend that run, against what they perceive as their major threat to the Elite title.
And they soon illustrated that determination on the scoreboard, wracking up an astonishing 1-4 first period lead.
Mistake-ridden Sheffield were uncoordinated, lack lustre on power plays, poor with the puck and timid in trying to clean their zone up.
Top point scorer Joey Talbot's attempt to clear the zone was first to be intercepted at 5;04 and influential defenceman Craig Weller rifled the puck in off the bar.
Four minutes later Brad Voth beat Derek Campbell to the puck, the giant Devils' winger pinging it in off Ryan Finnerty's stick.
Then Kevin Bolibruck was out-hustled on the boards, the puck moving swiftly to Gerad Adams who lashed home a lightning slapshot.
At 3-0 down, player coach Simon called a Time Out to try and eradicate the errors and re-focus his shell-shocked side.
They were immediately awarded a 5-on-3 Power Play – and with just one second left of it, they found the net through Talbot.
Yet the errors continued, with Mark Thomas's clearance deflected into the path of Devils' diminutive top scorer Jon Pelle, who flashed the puck past Ervins Mustukovs.
Statistically, Sheffield have the meanest defence in the league. But in that torrid, first 20 minutes they'd looked the worst.
On the plus side, they had skipper Jonathan Phillips back, against his old club, after long-term injury, and he added some zest down the flanks.
But the big import guns were not firing – in the second period, the Simon-Rob Globke-Neil Clark combo were almost invisible and discipline went out the window with two 5-on-3 penalties.
Devils efficiently used the session to tighten their stranglehold. The two Smiths, Sam and Kenton, had both fired in from left point to ring the score up to 6-1.
Globke showed far more attitude in the penalty box than on the ice and was hammered by a 10 minute misconduct for abusing the official. With no goals in a dozen games, it wasn't the place he'd have wanted to be.
Devils' top playmaker Scott Matzka showed how to be more effective, by racing to back-check Simon when a relatively rare chance arrived.
Even in the third period, Devils showed they wanted it more.
At 51;38 Sheffield were out-skated again and Voth sailed in to lift the puck past a demoralised Mustukovs.
Jeff Legue, hurling a helmet on the ice from the penalty box, was given a match penalty and will miss Saturday's game against Edinburgh. That about said it all.
Coach Simon said his players were disheartened and embarrassed by the game.
And he made some further specific, criticism, too...see tomorrow's Star.
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