Panthers double-header welcomed by Finnerty

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RYAN Finnerty is relishing his Sheffield Steelers side facing off against runaway Elite League leaders Nottingham Panthers in their traditional festive double-header.

The Panthers – nine points clear of third-placed Steelers, who have two games in hand – play host at a sell-out National Ice Centre today (4pm), before the two teams lock horns again tomorrow at the Motorpoint Arena (7.30pm).

Nottingham extended their run of 10 wins from the last 11 games with two impressive victories at the weekend, following up Saturday’s 7-1 thrashing of Fife Flyers with an 8-0 annihilation of hosts Coventry Blaze 24 hours later.

Steelers, by comparison, have stuttered of late, losing four of their last seven, the most recent disappointment coming in Sunday’s 2-1 reverse at home to second-placed Belfast Giants.

But Finnerty is buoyed by the efforts of his players, who came out of a brutal scrap at Hull Stingrays on Saturday with two vital points in a 4-2 win before, unjustly in his opinion, failing to beat Belfast.

And the Steelers head coach is well aware of the potent offensive threat posed, as always, by the Panthers – but believes his team are capable of nullifying it.

“If we continue playing like we did against Belfast on Sunday, there are not many teams who will able to deal with us,” said Finnerty.

“There’s still a lot of hockey to be played and things could look a whole lot different by the end of this week if results go our way.

“These two games are more crucial than they normally would be – if that’s possible – but we’ll go in there confident we can get a result – we’ve done it already this season.

“It’s going to be hard in their building, there’s no doubt about that, but we have got the right kind of game and the right kind of guys to do it.”

So far this season, it’s a case of honours even with both teams winning on the road in the league.

The two Challenge Cup group games also failed to split the great rivals after they produced one win apiece.

“They have always had that strong offence, but have probably got a better all-round balance this year,” added Finnerty.

“They will have tons of confidence, particularly after the weekend they’ve just had, but I think we match up well with them.”

n Sheffield Steeldogs will attempt to snap an eight-game losing streak when they travel to Basingstoke Bison today (4pm).

Andre Payette’s side ended the weekend empty-handed after defeats to Peterborough Phantoms and Guildford Flames.

Steeldogs’ most recent meeting with Basingstoke ended in a 6-4 defeat at home on December 16.