PAUL THOMPSON admits there is no margin for error from his Sheffield Steelers team over the next four weeks. None at all.
Wednesday night’s 5-2 win over Edinburgh Capitals saw the Steelers return to second place in the Elite League standings for the first time since the middle of December.
But with just nine games remaining, they remain six points adrift of leaders Cardiff Devils, while edging ahead of third-placed Belfast Giants by a single point.
Fortunately for the Steelers, they still have to host Cardiff twice in eight days at Sheffield Arena next month.
One of those encounters comes 24 hours after travelling to Belfast on Friday, March 17. Cardiff - who lose 7-4 at Nottingham Panthers on Tuesday night - also have to play Belfast twice.
The Steelers know they need somebody else to beat Cardiff - but that will only count if they produce a perfect, 100 per cent winning streak between now and Sunday, March 26.
We know the Panthers would love to come into our building on Saturday and spoil our party and our run-in like they did at home to Cardiff on TuesdaySheffield Steelers’ head coach, Paul Thompson
“We can’t slip up, period,” admitted Thompson. “We don’t intend to.
“We know the Panthers would love to come into our building on Saturday and spoil our party and our run-in like they did at home to Cardiff on Tuesday, so we’ll be focused and we’ll do our work on them again beforehand.”
It isn’t just the Panthers that the Steelers have to worry about, 24 hours later sees them head to Fife, never an easy trip.
Ahed of Saturday’s duel with Nottingham at Sheffield Arena, Thompson will make decisions on the fitness of Mike Ratchuk, Andreas Valdix and Colton Fretter, the latter departing from the Edinburgh after just a few short shifts.
If one or more them are not ready, Thompson is safe in the knowledge he has a dependable reserve in the shape of veteran defenceman Rod Sarich, who returned to competitive action on Wednesday night for the first time since September.
Sarich is around for the rest of the season, answering an SOS call from the Steelers after the departure of Swede Christoffer Bjorklund left them only a few hours to find a replacement before the deadline expired.
“We’ll just do some fitness tests on the boys on Saturday to see how they are shaping up,” said Thompson on Friday.
“Rod did great on Wednesday. He’s a good pro and skating comes very easy to him, he’s such a natural in that area and he keeps himself in great shape.
“We worked him hard in the three or four ice sessions that he had with us before we threw him in against Edinburgh. If we hadn’t had the injuries we had then I probably wouldn’t have done, but it was good for him to get his timing and everything else going.”