Sheffield Steelers 6 Coventry Blaze 1
Steelers' players answered their coach's call for more ruthless finishing with a 6-1 win over Coventry Blaze.
It wasn’t all plain-sailing. And it took goals from two Sheffield defencemen to kick things off.
But the ultimately comprehensive win closed the gap on second place Belfast Giants to two points with two games in hand.
Paul Thompson had confronted the problem of a recent firepower failings by putting powerhouse d-man Zack Fitzgerald on the wing, releasing Mike Ratchuk back to normal duties.
But the initial stages didn’t provide the answers Thompson had been looking for.
With Andreas Valdix and Jesse Schultz out of the line up, the mix-and-match line formations failed to dent Blaze’s defence.
Colton Fretter had two diamond chances - one he backhanded against the post, the other he placed wide of an open net.
And it was left to Coventry, a team Sheffield put nine past earlier this season, to open the scoring, Garrett Klotz tapping in from close-range at 15;01. It was a scrappy goal - but the 6ft 5ins Canadian winger celebrated in flamboyant style.
Liam Stewart could have doubled the advantage when he sliced through the home defence.
Sheffield had a dicey start to the middle session - before finding the key to Blaze’s defence and swinging the game their way.
It was all a bit untidy, at first. They had a goal disallowed, Mathieu Roy skated into Colton Fretter and Mike Ratchuk almost put his side under pressure with a cross-ice pass which was intercepted in the neutral zone.
But things improved, pressure told and a sweet cross from Jonathan Phillips was buried by Fitzgerald for 1-1 at 22.51.
Steelers, who started the night with 13 wins and seven losses to show from 20 league outings, then celebrated one of the great goals of recent Arena times - Ratchuk’s one man display of skating and stick handling delivering a top shelf classic.
Then it took Fretter seven seconds to sprint from the penalty box and beat Brian Stewart on a one on one to make it 3-1.
Fretter nabbed his second of the night at 44:03 and then Steelers pretty much strolled through the rest of the game.
Roy set off on a counter attack and shot home a fifth and, on the other wing, Guillaume Desbiens made it 6-1 with nine minutes remaining.
Thompson said later that he was pleased that his side, which had been lacking in confidence a little, had hit the goal trail.
Steelers travel to Coventry tomorrow, where they must do it all again.