IN-FORM Joey Talbot admits he and his Sheffield Steelers' team-mates will find goals much harder to come by this weekend after a recent spell of seemingly scoring for fun.
Second-placed Steelers take on Elite League title rivals the Belfast Giants at the Motorpoint Arena on Saturday night (7pm) before heading north to take on play-off chasing Dundee Stars on Sunday.
A surprise 7-1 home defeat to leaders Cardiff Devils aside, player-coach Ben Simon has seen his Steelers team enjoy a rich vein of form recently, plundering 63 goals in their last nine games.
Talbot – now in his fourth season with the Steelers – has led the charge, scoring 11 of those goals as well as contributing 12 assists and is the club's leading scorer overall with 29 goals and 37 assists, a tally which sees him sitting third in the league's points table for players, surrounded by the Cardiff trio of Jon Pelle, Scott Matska and Max Birbraer.
But he knows an almost full-strength Belfast side – who won 6-5 in their only previous visit to Sheffield this season – are going to prove a lot harder to break down than more recent opponents.
"Belfast have had some injury problems this season, as have we, but they always play it tough," said Talbot.
"Their goaltender (Stephen) Murphy has won them quite a few games and, although we haven't had much problem scoring goals lately, they will make it very difficult for us."
Sunday's long trip to Scotland is not a guaranteed two points for the Steelers either, particularly after eighth-placed Dundee were the team who finally ended Cardiff's 21-game unbeaten league run last weekend in a shoot-out.
"They had a rought start in Dundee," added Talbot. "But they have made a couple of good signings who have had a positive effect."
Hull Stingrays' player-coach Sylvain Cloutier believes his team's next four games will prove crucial in their bid to secure a top-six finish.
Cloutier's team hit the road to take on fourth-placed Nottingham Panthers on Saturday night before returning home to welcome Cardiff to Hull Arena on Sunday (6pm). They then head to Dundee next Saturday before taking on Sheffield on home ice the following night.
Barring a catastrophic loss of form, Hull should coast into the end-of-season play-offs, although Cloutier is keen for his side to overhaul either Braehead or Coventry before the regular season ends on March 20.
"We've got a really tough few games coming up," said Cloutier, who does not intend to replace British forward Matty Davies who left the club earlier this week.
"It will be interesting to measure ourselves up against Cardiff who are the best team in the league at the moment.
"But over the next two weekends we're going to have to find a way to steal points off some really good teams."