Sheffield Steelers told to be ‘smarter’ after double Cup setback

How not to defend: Layne Ulmer swoops, unmarked, in Steelers' slot.  Picture: Dean Woolley.
How not to defend: Layne Ulmer swoops, unmarked, in Steelers' slot. Picture: Dean Woolley.
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WHAT a difference a week makes.

Seven days on after extending their unbeaten start to the domestic season to three games with a thrilling 7-5 win over arch-rivals Nottingham Panthers, Sheffield Steelers were left somewhat deflated coming out of their latest weekend double-header.

On Saturday night, the Panthers were able to gain swift revenge for their Challange Cup Group B loss in Sheffield a week earlier by beating the Steelers 4-3 at the National Ice Centre.

It got worse for the Steelers 24 hours later when, in the same competition, they went down 5-3 in their first meeting of the 
2016-17 campaign with Cardiff Devils.

“We were beaten by the better team in our rink,” said Steelers’ head coach Paul Thompson after a second defeat in as many nights. “We had a good first period against Cardiff and we came out the gates pretty strong.

“In the second period, I felt we had three or four unbelievable scoring chances and we didn’t take them.

“Then came up our end and scored three goals from five chances, or something like that and that is something we need to work on.

“Cardiff are definitely a good team but we really can’t be giving up the kind of goals we did against them and we had worked on that sort of thing all week.

“We’ve got to work as hard without the puck as we do with it and I felt we isolated ourselves in our D-zone this weekend and we lost the battles down low and from the 30-minute mark onwards Cardiff controlled the game.

“It wasn’t out best performance, but Cardiff deserved to win.

STRIKE ONE: Sheffield Steelers' John Armstrong scores the first of his two goals against Cardiff Devils on Sunday night. Picture: Dean Woolley.

STRIKE ONE: Sheffield Steelers' John Armstrong scores the first of his two goals against Cardiff Devils on Sunday night. Picture: Dean Woolley.

“We got outworked in our defensive zone by Cardiff and that’s not the way we play.

“For the first time this year we got away from how we should play. We’ve got to be smarter and we’ve got to be better.

“We are a good team, but we had a bad night. We’ve got to take responsibility, individually and as a team. We’ve got to make ourselves harder to beat.”

It was the Steelers who enjoyed the better of the first period, two goals from John Armstrong giving them a 2-1 advantage after Mark Richardson had scored for the visitors in between.

“We are a good team, but we had a bad night. We’ve got to take responsibility, individually and as a team. We’ve got to make ourselves harder to beat.”

Paul Thompson, Sheffield Steelers’ head coach

But three unanswered goals in the middle stanza effectively settled the game.

Layne Ulmer levelled matters at 32.43 before Gleason Fournier’s 35th minute strike put the visitors ahead for the first time on the night.

It got worse for the Steelers when Joey Martin made it 4-2 at 38.24.

It became 5-2 through Jake Morissette at 42.33 and although Ben O’Connor pulled one back with just under 10 minutes remaining, there was no way back.

Having got he better of Nottingham Panthers 7-5 on home ice the previous weekend in the same competition, it proved to be a frustrating night in the return match at the National Ice Centre on Saturday as they went down 4-3.

They may have outshot their hosts 12-6 in the first period, but it was all square going in at the interval after David Clarke’s 10th-minute opener for the Panthers was cancelled out by Mike Ratchuk’s powerplay strike just over a minute later.

FRUSTRATING: Sheffield Steelers' Robert Dowd battles for possession in the 5-3 Challenge Cup defeat against Cardiff Devils on Sunday night. Picture: Dean Woolley.

FRUSTRATING: Sheffield Steelers' Robert Dowd battles for possession in the 5-3 Challenge Cup defeat against Cardiff Devils on Sunday night. Picture: Dean Woolley.

It was after the first break that the damage was done, the Panthers opening up a two-goal lead thanks to an Alex Nikiforuk double, his first of the night coming at 24.08 before he followed that up with another at 27.55.

But that was not the end of it in a frenetic second period.

Defenceman Anders Franzon made it a one-goal game when he struck at 36.39, only for Chris Lawrence to restore the two-goal lead just under a minute later.

Mathieu Roy then reduced the deficit once again for the visitors but that was as close as the Steelers could get.