ALL the talk may be of the offensive punch currently being shown by Sheffield Steelers – but head coach Aaron Fox insists that is only being made possible because of his team’s improved defensive prowess.
The Steelers extended their winning streak in all competitions to five games with a comprehensive 4-1 Elite League win over Fife Flyers on Wednesday and will look to improve on that further when they head across the Pennines tonight to take on Manchester Storm in the Challenge Cup.
Fox’s team currently top the standings in Group C with two games remaining.
“The defensive side of our game has been so much better recently than it was a month ago,” said Fox. “I think we only gave up 18 shots against Fife and we had close to 40 ourselves.
“So we are playing some really good offensive hockey and creating a ton of chances.
Fox said he would give a start in net to Pavel Kantor tonight, the 28-year-old Czech-born goaltender having not been seen between the pipes since the team’s last visit to Altrincham on September 28 – also in the Challenge Cup – which saw Ryan Finnerty’s team prevail 5-2.
"It’s a little unfair to Kanty that the last game he played was in Manchester," added Fox. "And we all know that that rink is not the easiest place to play as a goalie - you can shoot from anywhere and there’s tight corners there.
“He’s worked really hard in practice these past two weeks and I know he’ll be chomping at the bit to get back in there.
"This Cup game against Manchester is important to us because we want to finish top of our group and choose who our opponent is and we want to make sure we are as close to the top as we can be as that is an important trophy to us to be chasing."
Elsewhere, Sheffield Steeldogs will look to break clear of their rivals at the top of the NIHL National standings when they welcome Swindon Wildcats who, along with Telford Tigers, are on 12 points with Ben Morgan's team.
Defenceman Tim Smith said the first visit to Ice Sheffield from player-coach Aaron Nell's team, was another encounter to look forward to.
"These are the kind of games you want to be playing in and it's a good chance for us to bear down and really seeing what we're about," said Smith.
"Swindon and Telford Tigers - the other team we're playing against this weekend, they are the two teams we are measuring ourselves against."
Sheffield head to Telford on Saturday night but have no game on Sunday. They welcome Leeds Chiefs to Ice Sheffield next Friday.