Sheffield Steelers 3 Coventry Blaze 4 (Sunday)
Sheffield Steelers 1 Nottingham Panthers 2 (Saturday)
THE EARLY title aspirations of the orange shirts of Sheffield Steelers appear to be running out of juice.
Any club with hopes of landing a Championship title has to get its home form right.
Yet Ryan Finnerty’s misfiring men managed only one point from a possible four this weekend.
It means the coach will have to study the chemistry of his line-up again, to see if it has what it takes to match his demands.
If not, changes may be necessary. One player in the firing line could be Cory Pecker, whose performances have failed to thrill the fans.
Last night, Steelers took the initiative with a pearl of a goal on 5;52.
Everything looked on course when Jason Hewitt set Jonathan Phillips off down the right wing and his pinpoint cross was smashed home by Tylor Michel.
Coventry were poor at this point; the closest they came was Mike Egener’s effort hitting the outside of the post.
Sheffield on the other hand, were on a mission to take as many shots on goal as possible. Rod Sarich’s rink length skate also saw the puck strike the upright and then Sheffield doubled their lead.
Blaze had three men within inches of goalie Peter Hirsch, but Ashey Tait still prodded home.
What Sheffield had constructed in the first session was dismantled in the second.
Within 82 seconds of the re-start, Greg Leeb wriggled down the right wing and shot across John DeCaro.
Seven minutes later, Steelers fourth line were over-run and Gerome Giuidice equalised.
Just when they didn’t want it, Sheffield conceded a 5-on-3 power play. They killed the first segment, but Mike Schutte put the visitors ahead at 34;23.
At least Sheffield went in level - Jeff Legue stepping out of the penalty box to convert Tait’s pass.
But the period ended with bad blood; heavyweight Drew Fata and Benn Olson fought, while coach Ryan Finnerty then berated the officials outside their dressing room for allegedly missing the visitors’ infringements.
After a such a disastrous 1-2 period, great things were needed in the last session. But they never arrived.
Hewitt took a high-sticks penalty and a long point shot from Schutte flashed over DeCaro.
Sheffield tried to regroup with efforts from Steve Goertzen, Colin Shields and Jonathan Phillips.
But when Cory Pecker went off with a game misconduct for butt-ending, the game went with him.
When Sheffield win away, unexpectedly, and then go on and lose at home, unexpectedly, well, it’s not all that, erm, unexpected any more.
On Saturday, some 6,753 Arena fans saw Steelers beaten at home by Panthers, a team whose rink they had triumphed at a week earlier.
The loss was was the third in five home matches this year, if you include the pre-season exhibition.
Saturday was a decent game, but not your typical blood and thunder ‘derby.’
Any ‘newbies’ in the crowd might not have grasped the tactical subtleties - just as both teams seemed unwilling to grasp the nettle.
Goals from Panthers skipper Jordon Fox - in a move figuring NHL lock-out signing Anthony Stewart - and Jeff Legue cancelled each other out in the middle session.
Steelers failed on five power plays and couldn’t find a way past Craig Kowalski when they finally started mastering their own ice. Penalty shots went Panthers’ way: Colin Shields and Legue unable to beat Kowalski, but Matt Francis and David Ling executing past John DeCaro.