Nottingham Panthers 5 Sheffield Steelers 2 - Positive signs for Tom Barrasso despite opening night loss

DOUBLE BLOW: Tommy Hughes fires past Jackson Whistle to give Nottingham a 2-0 lead on Saturday night. Picture: Panthers Images
DOUBLE BLOW: Tommy Hughes fires past Jackson Whistle to give Nottingham a 2-0 lead on Saturday night. Picture: Panthers Images
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IT may not have been the result he wanted in his first game as Sheffield Steelers' new head coach, but Tom Barrasso saw plenty to give him encouragement at the National Ice Centre on Saturday night.

The 5-2 scoreline slightly flattered the hosts, the 30-strong shot count being the same for both teams and, more so, when considering they were playing against opponents already low on confidence and missing four forwards through injury after Evan McGrath and Chris Lawrence joined fellow forwards Rob Dowd and Jordan Owens on the sidelines.

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Still, while the record book will point to it being a fourth straight league defeat for the Steelers, most of the visiting fans will remember witnessing a performance boasting promise and no shortage of hard work that should - potentially - bode well for, hopefully, the near-future and beyond.

"I asked them before the game to skate and to work and I thought we did both of those things extremely well," said Barrasso afterwards.

"We performed a lot of our systems to a higher standard as well which was a pleasant surprise so they’ll be plenty of good video to show the team on Monday and Tuesday in practise about how we’re building the foundation of our team moving forward and what we look like when we’re playing our best.

"I think they’ve bought into the idea of what we’re trying to do."

OPENING NIGHT: Tom Barrasso gives instructions to his Sheffield Steelers' players on Saturday night. Picture: Panthers Images

OPENING NIGHT: Tom Barrasso gives instructions to his Sheffield Steelers' players on Saturday night. Picture: Panthers Images

In a tight encounter the game-deciding moments came within a short, 16-second period early in the third period.

The Panthers had gone in after the first 40 minutes 2-0 to the good after a 14th-minute powerplay effort from Kevin Henderson - prodding home a rebound from close in from a rebound off Steelers' goaltender Jackson Whistle - was added to by a Tommy Hughes strike at 23.19.

Steelers had seen plenty of chances during the second period to halve deficit and finally got their rewards just under two minutes into the third when Mark Matheson's slap shot ricocheted off the foot of Guillaume Lepine and into the net.

But, the Steelers bench and their supporters had barely had chance to settle down, before they dound themselves two goals adrift again, a rebound off Whistle finding Hughes whose pass eventually found its way through to Alex Guptill, who had the simple job of tapping the puck past the stranded Steelers' goalie.

TOUGH GOING: Kieran Brown, left, is supported by Brendan Brooks as the Sheffield Steelers look for a way back into the game at the National Ice Centre. Picture: Panthers Images

TOUGH GOING: Kieran Brown, left, is supported by Brendan Brooks as the Sheffield Steelers look for a way back into the game at the National Ice Centre. Picture: Panthers Images

It was a killer blow that seemed to knock the stuffing out of the short-benched Steelers, their situation getting worse six minutes later when Tyler Biggs smashed the puck past a helpless Whistle on a 2-on-1 breakaway thanks to a neat feed from Robert Lachowicz.

Faint hope returned for the visitors when, in his 14th start since joining in the summer, Stefan Della Rovere rifled the puck into the roof of the net.

Whistle was pulled to give the Steelers an extra attacker, but a penalty on Davey Phillips soon after then presented the Panthers with a power play opportunity that they took advantage of, Guptill skilfully adjusting himself to take a stretch pass on the edge of the Steelers' zone before turning and firing through the legs of Whistle.