How Nottingham Panthers can put Sheffield Steelers back on title track

Nottingham Panthers will have relished the fact they may have helped scupper Sheffield Steelers' title plans.

Monday, 21st March 2022, 1:20 pm

Last Saturday's 3-0 shut out of Aaron Fox's men certainly undermined Steelers' chances on an evening where favourites and league leaders Belfast Giants won yet again.

Yet fate has it in store that Panthers can now go on to do their closest rivals a favour, this coming weekend.

Nottingham travel to Northern Ireland for back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday.

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If they can beat Giants at least one of those, it will be a boost for Steelers who are currently trailing the leaders by four points, with a game in hand.

Sheffield coach Aaron Fox doesn't think a Panthers' win is out of the question.

"I think every team in this league is competitive, anyone on any given night will have a chance if the team you are facing is not ready to play" he said.

"I feel like Nottingham won in overtime on Sunday (at Glasgow) after coming off a couple of wins and they can find a way to win in Belfast, for sure."

Steelers under pressure at Fife.

Fox is pragmatic about what could inspire Nottingham at the SSE Arena.

"The unique thing is you have (player-coach) Mark Matheson trying to make a point over his coaching side of things and they brought Dave Whistle (bench coach) in and he has also made a difference.

"The other side of things is that players are playing for contracts.

"As a player, you are a salesman; you are trying to sell yourself on a year-to-year basis.

All to play for yet, for Sheffield.

"There will be guys there that will be looking either to stay in Nottingham or open up some eyes from Belfast? There is always that side of this business.

"I don't think there will be many guys in that room who won't give up the effort knowing that they are playing for themselves too."

Panthers shut out Sheffield 3-0 on Saturday, but Fox wasn't overly despondent about the performance.

"I watched the Nottingham game back and I thought we deserved more, to be honest" he said.

Ex-Steelers coach Dave Whistle wants to make an impression in Nottingham.

"We just couldn't find the back of the net. Unlucky is not a word you like to use in hockey, but we didn't have a ton of puck luck.

"You are not going to win a lot of hockey games when you score zero goals.

"I don't think we played bad defensively, other than the first few minutes, when they had some jump and took it to us. But we made adjustments and defended well the rest of the game.

"In Fife, (Sunday's 5-2 win versus Flyers) we had some jam, we won a lot of battles and a lot of races and put 50 shots on them; we scored five goals.

"A two-point weekend is probably not enough right now, but that game on Sunday was pretty important to us."