SLOWLY, but surely, Sheffield Steelers are getting bodies back on the line.
Since the turn of the year, Paul Thompson's team have been hampered by the loss through injury and suspension of several key players. The suspensions of Zack Fitzgerald and Andreas Jamtin were costly enough but, thankfully, brief compared to the injury problems that have beset the South Yorkshire club.
John Armstrong is unlikely to return to action until the post-season having been ruled out since before the turn of the year with a finger injury while Rob Dowd, who has not played any part since the club's bronze medal in the Continental Cup in early January, is still a week away from being in contention again.
Thankfully, Colton Fretter, who was ruled out with an unspecified injury for three weeks returned for a four-point weekend which saw the Steelers beat Guildford Flames and Coventry Blaze.
The loss of such key players - who have contributed 112 points between them this season, including 50 goals - would have a significant impact on any team, meaning it has been left to others to step up and contribute.
One of those players is forward Matt Marquard who, after scoring the game-tying and then game-winning goal to seal a brilliant 4-3 comeback victory against former club Coventry on Sunday, has left him as the club's top scorer on 24.
But the 30-year-old Canadian, a round seven draft pick back in 2006 for the Columbus Blue Jackets, is quick to point out that it has been a collective effort that has enabled Steelers to enjoy a run of form which has brought just five defeats in the last 21 games while short on bodies.
"Our room isn't about making excuses, but we have had a big part of our core missing, you take Armstrong, Dowd and Fretter out and that is 50 or so goals there," said Marquardt. "It also takes a lot of the character and the leadership that those guys have out of the room.
"So it’s a big part of our team that has been missing but, at the same time, we’ve had other people that have stepped up and when you find yourselves in that kind of situation it brings the remaining group closer together - absolutely."
With 12 regular season games remaining, there seems little hope of the Steelers - or anybody else in fact - closing the gap on leaders and defending champions Cardiff Devils, who visit Sheffield Arena tonight. The Steelers currently sit fifth, 14 points adrift of Andrew Lord's side, who are also eight points clear of second-placed Manchester Storm.
But with four games still to come against the Devils and a game in hand there remains the slimmest of chances. Just. There's also the small matter of atoning for the nightmare 7-1 defeat the last time the two teams met in Cardiff two weeks ago, the Welsh side overturning a four-goal deficit from the first leg of the Challenge Cup semi-final showdown to reach the final.
"We consider every game a four-point game," added Marquardt. "We want two points and we want to take two points away from our opponents. So it’s far from over and we’ve got a lot of meetings against them yet and against everybody else that we’re competing with.
"Everybody is working hard for each other and helping each other. We’ve come such a long way since the start of the season and we get closer as a group with every day that goes by and when you have that off-ice chemistry it really shows on the ice."