NOTTINGHAM PANTHERS may arrive in Sheffield tonight in the midst of a poor run of form, but Ben O’Connor insists that will count for nothing.
After losing four Elite League games on the trot, Corey Neilson’s side tasted that winning feeling again on Friday night when they defeated Coventry Blaze 2-1 in what was the final Challenge Cup Group B game for both sides.
It saw Nottingham draw level on points with the Steelers but not prevent their rivals from finishing top of the group. Coventry failed to progress to the knockout stages.
Both group stage meetings between the two went the way of the home side and O’Connor hopes that pattern can be maintained on Saturday night by a Steelers side sitting one place and one point above the Panthers with three games in hand.
The 27-year-old defenceman is wise enough to realise, however, that the Panthers - so dominant in their Continental Cup group campaign prior to their league dip - are always capable of hurting teams.
“They’ve got great players all over and we know that if we’re not on our game they will hurt us,” said O’Connor.
“We lost our last game and they’ve been on a bad run of form but when it comes to games between ourselves form and recent results go out of the window.”
Steelers themselves go into the clash on the back of heavy 4-0 defeat at Dundee Stars - to where they return on Sunday - although they will be buoyed by the return of defencemen Zack Fitzgerald and Mike Ratchuk, both missing from that game through suspension and illness respectively.
And while being down to four defencemen on a weekend which also saw them win 6-5 after a shootout at Edinburgh Capitals was far from ideal, O’Connor admitted the Steelers didn’t help themselves.
“Playing with just four ‘D’ is extremely tough and I think we were drained by the Sunday,” he said. “But at the same time, I don’t think we were clinical enough, we weren’t moving the puck fast enough, we weren’t shooting off the pass but come Sunday, it will be a very different game by us.”
After an encouraging start to the season, O’Connor believes there is better to come from the defending Elite League champions.
“If someone had said to Thommo at the start of the season that we would be where we are in the league and have won the Challenge Cup group, I think he’d have grabbed it with both hands,” said O’Connor.
“We had a hectic start but things are starting to settle down. We are starting to get into the swing of things and we’re happy where we are right now - but we’ve still got room to improve.”
When it comes to games between ourselves form and recent results go out of the window.Sheffield Steelers’ Ben O’Connor.