DEPLETED in numbers and scoring they may be, but Sheffield Steelers made light work of those supposed weaknesses against Guildford Flames.
With the high-scoring duo of John Armstrong and Rob Dowd ruled out through injury and Andreas Jamtin and Zack Fitzgerald both suspended, there was a concern the Steelers might be at the mercy of a Guildford team who arrived in South Yorkshire one place above them in the standings.
Up against visitors who head coach Paul Thompson had acknowledged prior to face off as being the best skating team n the Elite League, the hosts rarely relinquished control, particularly after going ahead within the first two minutes through recent arrival Eric Neiley, who finished high past Chris Carrozzi's left shoulder.
John Dunbar equalised for the Flames in the 16th minute, the quickest to react in order to cannon the puck over the line off Sheffield goaltender Ervins Mustukovs, who had made done well to make the initial save.
But the hosts were ahead again by the first period break when Mathieu Roy battled relentlessly to prod the puck home at 18.33 as a scramble ensued around Carrozzi's net.
Roy doubled his tally and the team's lead early in the second, again from close range, before Ben O'Connor fired a rasping shot past an unsighted Carrozzi in the 28th minute on the powerplay.
The game was effectively ended as a contest when youngster Laim Kirk backhanded one past Carrozzi four minutes later, although the Flames gave themselves a lifeline 43 seconds before the end of the period when Rhett Rachinski benefitted from good work by former Steelers' forward Geoff Walker.
It was Walker who created a few nerves among the sizeable home crowd when he reduced the deficit to two goals with just under 10 minutes remaining. But the hosts quickly extinguished any hopes of the Flames flickering further when Levi Nelson neatly side-stepped his way through to beat Carrozzi, Andreas Valdix then benefitting from a neat feed off Neiley to finish off the scoring with just over a minute remaining.
The 7-3 win was enough to move the Steelers back up above Guildford and its importance made all the more real when news came through of Nottingham's 6-4 win over leaders and defending champions Cardiff Devils at the National Ice Centre.
Thompson's team may still be nine points adrift of the Devils, but it is nights like Saturday - together with favourable returns in the remaining head-to-head meetings between the two - that will be crucial to Steelers' hopes of a sixth EIHL title.
"I don't think this win should be underestimated," said head coach Thompson. "It's not easy when you lose two of your top scorers like we have done. Then you add in Jamtin who has been one of our top performers this past month and with Fitzgerald also out we were having to play with five D back there.
"So I'm really happy with the performance and we got contributions fro every line. We had a long weekend last week and we learned from when we got back from the previous round of the Continental Cup and so we gave the guys an extra day off.
"So when they came back in Thursday and Friday we didn't ease them back in it was bang, bang, bang, bang and making sure we were ready. We've played more hockey than anybody and the games catch you up and being short-benched like we are we've got to be the team that has that energy, that spark and we had it in abundance against Guildford."