Sheffield Steelers have top spot in their sights but remain wary of threat from Manchester Storm
A four-point haul in their festive double-header against Nottingham Panthers combined with a pair of defeats for leaders Guildford Flames at the hands of Manchester Storm, has left the Steelers just one point adrift of their Surrey rivals.
The Flames have another daunting two days ahead of them in back-to-back games against the Cardiff Devils, while the Steelers have it far from easy themselves, taking on a Storm side bang in form and no doubt keen to ruin put a spanner in the works of another Elite League title contender – particularly one just across the Pennines.
Steelers’ captain Jonathan Phillips admits it is gettiong down to the ‘business end’ of the campaign with every point they can accrue between now and the end of March “crucial.”
"More than anything it’s just so important to keep picking up points, whether they are enough to put you on top now or at the end of the year,” he said.
"Every weekend is crucial, especially from now onwards because we’re getting towards the business end of the season.”
It is the inconsistency of the Storm that makes this weekend so hard to predict, Matt Ginn’s team walloping Guildford 8-1 one night, while being hammered 9-0 at Coventry Blaze on another.
But, in addition to their recent double over the Flames, they took a point from the leaders in a 4-3 overtime defeat at the Spectrum, as they did in a shootout loss at home to an improving Cardiff.
It is very rare for Manchester to take anything from their visits to Sheffield, but Phillips knows a tough night is waiting for them in the return bout in Altrincham on Sunday.
"Over the years, whenever you play Manchester in Altrincham, it is always a hard game to win,” added Davies. “It’s right up there as one of the toughest nights on the schedule – they play so well in that rink, a bit like Cardiff used to in their previous rink.
"So we know that game there is going to be tough. It’s about limiting your mistakes, keep things as simple as possible and shoot pucks on net.”
Phillips is confident the Steelers have the tools to get the job done on both nights, going into tonight’s clash at the Utilita Arena on the back of a seven-game winning streak in the league, nine in all competitions.
"We are a deep team and we’ve got four lines who can play against any other line in the league, first, second, third or fourth,” insisted Phillips.
“Obviously we’ve got two main scoring lines where you want or expect the bulk of your points to come from, but I think the other two units are chipping in and there is a lot of secondary scoring.
“And when you are going for a big trophy like the league championship, it’s so important to have that secondary scoring contributing on a regular basis.”