GERAD ADAMS has backed his players to bounce back and resurrect their Elite League title challenge, despite suffering another blow at the hands of rivals Nottingham Panthers.
A 4-1 home defeat extended the Steelers’ losing streak in the league to five games - three of those losses coming at the hands of Corey Neilson’s team, while the other two were inflicted by another title rival in the shape of Belfast Giants.
On the night, leaders Braehead Clan were the league’s biggest winners, not just because they eased past Fife Flyers 5-1, but because Belfast, Cardiff Devils and, of course, the Steelers all lost.
As a result, Ryan Finnerty’s team now enjoy a six point lead over second-placed Belfast into the Sunday schedule, with Steelers swapping places with Nottingham and dropping to fifth in the standings, seven points adrift of the Clan, although with three games in hand.
After Saturday night’s defeat – a fifth of the season against Nottingham – Adams couldn’t fault the effort of his players, only that they were not smart enough often enough throughout.
“I’m very frustrated, extremely so,” said Adams.
“I think we worked hard, there’s no question about that. I just don’t think we worked very smart.
“We’ve lost our identity along the way over this past couple of weeks. Any fool can put his head down and work as hard as he can, but there’s got to be smart work there as well.
“I think we’re over-trying, under-trying, we refuse to make simple plays, we refuse to get pucks deep when we need to and we need to commit to playing stronger defence in our zone.
“These players are capable of lifting us back up the standings. That’s the simple answer. We did the easy bit by getting to the top, but we haven’t done the hard bit by staying there. We’ll be back.”
When asked if he was concerned that his team had lost five “big” games against title rivals, Adams added; “Yes. It’s a combination of playing good hockey teams that are playing good hockey and us not being at our best on so many levels. And the combination of those two has led to the recent results.”
Steelers actually started the brighter of the two teams and thought they had gone ahead through an effort from the returning Mathieu Roy, but it was ruled out because team-mate Tyler Mosienko was judged to have been in the crease at the time.
As often happens, soon after the momentum switched when the Panthers went ahead at 12.36. Barely four hours after landing in the UK from Denmark, former Hull Stingrays forward Guillaume Doucet marked his debut for the East Midlands club by tipping in past Frank Doyle from Robert Farmer’s shot.
Just under five minutes later, Cody Wild struck to double the lead for the visitors.
Steelers huffed and puffed, but while they outshot Panthers, Mattias Modig was rarely stretched, while Doyle twice produced acrobatics to keep the deficit down to two.
Shortly after one of those saves, which saw him sprawl across his crease to keep the puck out, he was powerless to prevent a third for the Panthers when Bruce Graham was left free to dance around him and poke the puck home at 34.40. Just when Steelers thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did, With only 23 seconds remaining in the period, Brandon Benedict’s fifth of the season made it 4-0. As the players left the ice, boos could be heard from a small number of home fans.
Again the Steelers enjoyed plenty of possession in the third and did eventually get on the board through Roy, the league’s leading points scorer grabbing his 24th of the campaign by tipping in Ben O’Connor’s shot at 51.44. Any hopes of a comeback, though, were fanciful.
Normally a trip to a Coventry Blaze team struggling outside the play-off places 24 hours later would appear an ideal scenario for the Steelers to bounce back, particularly given they have enjoyed the better of the exchanges between the two teams so far, winning four of the five meetings.
But Chuck Weber’s team will present a stiff test and certainly be buoyed by their 5-4 win in Cardiff, a result that brought an end to an seven-game winning streak in the league for the South Wales club.
Belfast Giants 2 Hull Stingrays 4
Braehead Clan 5 Fife Flyers 1
Cardiff Devils 4 Coventry Blaze 5
Edinburgh Capitals 1 Dundee Stars 2 (After Penalty Shootout)
Sheffield Steelers 1 Nottingham Panthers 4