DEFEAT to runaway Elite League leaders Belfast Giants last weekend may have been hard to stomach, but Sheffield Steelers’ head coach Doug Christiansen believes his players are starting to ‘click’.
Now 19 points adrift of the Giants - albeit with three games in hand - it would take a brave man to put any money on the Steelers winning a fourth Elite League championship from their current position.
But, when there are six games remaining against arch-rivals Nottingham Panthers - themselves not without their trials and tribulations this season - Christiansen is adamant there is still plenty to play for before the end of March.
“We had a disappointing game against Belfast, but one game isn’t taking away anything from the body of work we have put together recently,” said Christiansen.
“There is no doubt in my mind that this team is starting to get it and it is starting to click and there is still a lot of hockey to be played.”
The first of Steelers’ encounters with Nottingham - currently one place and one point above them in the overall league standings - comes tonight at the Motorpoint Arena (7pm), ahead of a trip to Coventry Blaze tomorrow.
“Like ourselves Nottingham have had considerable injury problems,” added Christiansen. “They’ve had different line-ups every single night.
“But they are still a great offensive team, they’ve still got the league’s top powerplay and we know that in a rivalry game like this they will make you pay if you have any lapses.
“If you look at our schedule we play our arch-rivals (Nottingham) six times in the next six weeks and that’s going to go a long way to determining our fortunes not only in the Challenge Cup, but also where we wind up in the league.”
To listen to Doug Christiansen speak ahead of the weekend’s Elite League action click HERE
Despite the significant defeat to his former team Belfast last Saturday – a result which ended the Steelers’ nine-game unbeaten stretch at home – Christiansen was lifted by his side’s performance 24 hours later when a 6-5 win at Dundee Stars gave them an 10-5 aggregate victory in the Challenge Cup to set up a two-legged semi-final against the Panthers.
“It was a disappointing game against Belfast,” added Christiansen. “I think anybody who was in the building felt the game could have gone either way.
“But I was very uplifted by the fact that the team went to Dundee, a team at second place in the league for a good reason – they were 15 and 3 at home this season (before our visit) – and played the way they did.
“We went up there and, not only got a result, but outplayed them over the course of the game and for us to score six goals was great for everybody.”