DESPITE the slightly downbeat end to the weekend brought on by a shoot-out loss to Elite League play-off rivals Coventry Blaze, Sheffield Steelers’ head coach Tom Barrasso still saw reasons to be cheerful.
With 11 games remaining, the Steelers’ ability to take seven points out of a possible eight in their last four games has left them sitting in sixth spot in the overall standings.
Despite last night’s victory, Coventry remain just outside the top eight play-off spots, four points adrift of the Steelers but, crucially, with four games in hand.
In fact, the four teams lying beneath the Steelers all have games in hand, although second-bottom Manchester Storm are now the ones with most ground to make up after back-to-back defeats to Guildford Flames brought a pointless weekend and left them three points off eighth place.
“It’s definitely a point won,” said Barrasso, whose team had recorded a fifth straight win over Nottingham Panthers the previous evening with a deserved 5-2 triumph at the National Ice Centre.
“We had 12 games left going into tonight’s game and there were 24 points available. We picked up one and we’re fighting for every point because we need them and we currently find ourselves in a play-off spot.
“For us, we look at it in five-game segments and our last five have been 3-1-1 – so that’s a good segment for us and gives us something positive to build on and we’ll take some momentum moving forward.”
In a game punctuated by penalty calls, the Steelers were leading at Blaze’s SkyDome Arena through a Tom Zanoski effort at 30.56.
But the hosts pulled themselves level at 48.43 through Nicolai Bryhnisveen and that was how it stayed through the rest of regulation and overtime prompting a penalty shoot-out which saw the hosts prevail and seal a welcome four-point weekend following an impressive 7-4 win on the road at Fife Flyers the previous evening.
What seemed to please Barrasso most about the weekend as a whole was his team’s overall defensive performance.
We had 12 games left going into tonight’s game and there were 24 points available. We picked up one and we’re fighting for every point because we need them and we currently find ourselves in a play-off spot.Sheffield Steelers’ head coach, Tom Barrasso
“That tonight (against Coventry) could have been our best defensive performance of the season,” added Barrasso.
“I receive a shot chart after every period and we did an excellent job of protecting the house, the core of the ice.
“Most of the (Coventry) shots were from the exterior, looking for screens, deflections, stuff like that and our ‘D’ were good on bodies, good on sticks and our forwards collapsed and pushed their ‘D’ hard – it was a really good defensive effort.”
The previous night in Nottingham, it was all level until an Evan McGrath wraparound gave the visitors the lead at 25.21, only for Mark Hurtubise to level just over three minutes later.
But three unanswered goals – a second-period Jordan Owens double being added to by a Zanoski effort at 54.33 – proved decisive and, although Chris Stewart made it 4-2 at 57.36, an empty net effort from defenceman Ryan Martinelli ensured the Steelers made it five wins out of six in the regular season over their fiercest rivals.