WHAT a difference a week makes.
Sheffield Steelers may still top the overall Elite League standings but they know – particularly based on the harsh words from their coach Ryan Finnerty – that they are going to have to seriously up their game if they are to be considered a serious title contender.
Last weekend the Steelers were on a high, following up a 3-2 win at Nottingham Panthers with a 5-4 shoot-out win against Belfast Giants – two of their title rivals.
A 6-3 Challenge Cup win at Hull Stingrays followed in midweek, but that was the end of their six-game winning run, with only one point from a possible four at home taken this weekend.
That point came in a 2-1 defeat after a shoot-out to arch-rivals Panthers, following a somewhat lacklustre display.
Last night, it got even worse for Finnerty’s team when they went down 4-3 in front of their own fans against an injury-hit Coventry Blaze, who now sit third in the table, one point behind Steelers.
“It was unacceptable, totally unacceptable,” said an irate Finnerty when interviewed after the defeat to Coventry.
“I can accept guys not scoring – all guys go through slumps. What I can’t accept and won’t accept is guys not working hard for me, that is 100 per cent unacceptable.
“If you don’t put the work in then you have no place being here, it’s as simple as that.”
Last night had started so well as the Steelers took a two-goal lead into the first period break thanks to strikes from Tylor Michel and Ashley Tait. But Coventry came back strongly in the second period, reducing the deficit first through Greg Leeb before Gerome Giudice levelled at 28.19.
Mike Schutte put Coventry ahead on the powerplay, before Steelers’ Jeff Legue hit back to make it 3-3.
The deciding goal came less than two minutes into the third when Schutte grabbed his second – again on the powerplay – with Steelers then losing their discipline as they chased the game, Corey Pecker and Drew Fata both earning themselves game misconducts late on.
Against Nottingham, the intensity never reached the levels seen in Nottingham a week earlier with Jordan Fox and Legue trading goals before Matt Francis and David Ling’s shoot-out strikes earned the visitors the extra point.
Hull Stingrays suffered shoot-out heartache in both their weekend games, going down 6-5 at Coventry in the Challenge Cup on Saturday, before losing 5-4 at home in the league to Braehead Clan.
Sunday – Elite League: Hull Stingrays 4 Braehead Clan 5 (SO), Sheffield Steelers 3 Coventry Blaze 4.
Elite League/Challenge Cup Group A: Fife Flyers 1 Belfast Giants 3.
Challenge Cup, Group A: Edinburgh Capitals 3 Dundee Stars 5.
Saturday, Elite League: Cardiff Devils 4 Edinburgh Capitals 1, Sheffield Steelers 1 Nottingham Panthers 2 (SO).
Challenge Cup, Group A: Belfast Giants 3 Braehead Clan 2. Group B: Coventry Blaze 6 Hull Stingrays 5 (SO).