A tough and gritty home performance from the Manchester Storm was just enough to outlast the Nottingham Panthers and ensure the hosts remained within touching distance of the play-off berths. Despite the numbing temperatures in the rink, a hotly contested encounter saw Storm captain Dane Byers roll back the years with a crucial overtime winner, courtesy of a well placed penalty shot.
Manchester Storm vs Nottingham Panthers (06/01/19)
A long-term injury to Shane Bakker (6-8 weeks) will now effectively pick the line-up for Ryan Finnerty, with a full quota of imports still available for the home team. The back-up netminder spot is now to be filled by youngster Luke Wilson-Owen, following the recent departure of Declan Ryan.
The midweek signing of former NHLer Chris Stewart was rightly seen as a coup for the Panthers and league. Stewart’s veteran presence should help turnaround a floundering forward line that has dropped off the championship pace in recent weeks. An injury to Robert Farmer kept him out the line-up on this occasion, with Tim Billingsley and Patrick Munson healthy scratches.
An evenly contested opening stanza saw few goal scoring chances created, with six minor penalties punctuating the free-flowing style of both sides. The constant penalty taking hamstrung clearly hamstrung benches, as the special teams units were rolled out with more regularity than expected, and perhaps wanted. The home side were gifted four powerplay opportunities, inside the first 16 minutes of action, and continually failed to get puck on goal, evidenced by the meek tally of 9 shots on target in the first period. The visitors fared slightly in the shot department, mustering 12 attempts in the opening 20 minutes of play. However, the scoreline would remain deadlock at zero when the first intermission buzzer sounded, with both teams sticking closely to their strategies.
The second period started much in the same vein with solid goaltender and effective forechecking, from both sides, forcing the majority of shots to be taken from distance. However, a turnover at centre ice from the Panthers cost them dearly, with Felix-Antoine Poulin snapping the puck cross-ice to Evan Richardson whose wristshot rebounded of Michael Garnett and afforded the red-hot Ciaran Long the opportunity of a clear sight at the twine. The star British forward seized on the free puck and expertly lifted the puck into the roof of the goal on the backhand at the midway point of the match. Although, it would take less than 5 minutes for the Panthers to respond with Chris Stewart’s first meaningful contribution of the night directly influencing the play. Stewart’s odd-angled shot produced a huge rebound of the pads of Ginn and Brett Perlini was on-hand to neatly tuck away the puck. The score would remain level for just 77 seconds before Poulin’s skimming wristshot avoid everyone, following a neat combination from long-term linemates Dane Byers and Luke Moffat. Although, despite the high-paced game no further goal scoring chances were created before the second intermission, with the Panthers now outshooting the hosts 30:21.
The visitors would eventually draw level, with the game clock at 47:25, thanks largely to some poor defensive work from the Storm. After two failed attempts to clear the zone, from Richardson and Long, Justin Kovacs somehow managed to weave his way around a melee of bodies and sneak one passed Matt Ginn (I have a feeling this one might get another look at during the week). After two relatively even periods, in terms of goal scoring chances, the Panthers would finally capitalise on powerplay chance (on the sixth time of asking) and take the lead for the first time in the game. In what appeared to initially be a broken play, Jaynen Rissling was able to retain the zone and quickly find Mark Hurtubise in the slot. The playmaking forward correctly opted to pass the puck and teed up Perlini, whose wristshot comfortably beat Ginn on his glove-side. The one goal advantage for the Panthers, with 10:05 left in the game, initially appeared to have sucked the life out of a good sized crowd at the Shelter. Until a deserved game levelling goal from Linden Springer, just five minutes later, lifted the roof, for the second time in a week. The late in-game adjustment from Ryan Finnerty to place Hammond-Byers-Moffat on the same forward line, was vindicated after excellent puck possession from the trio ultimately created the opportunity for Springer to score. The movement and passing from Hammond and Moffat found Springer wide open near the face-off circle and after his first shot was blocked the chance looked like it might well have gone. Yet, with the puck still loose Springer instinctively drove towards goal and smashed home the puck to make things level again. With two important points still on the line both teams decided to relaxed their forechecking pressure and ensure nobody would go home empty handed, as the game headed into overtime.
The 3on3 format would in theory heavily favour the Panthers, with multiple attacking options, strong skating blueliners and significantly more depth available. The opening 30 seconds, of overtime, enabled Chris Stewart to showcase his talents. As a smart piece of puckhandling saw Stewart break free of the defence and fire a backhanded shot on goal, which was smartly stopped by Ginn. Ultimately it would be another former NHLer, Dane Byers, that would ensure the two points would remain in Altrincham. Following a poor line-change from the Panthers, Byers was through 1on1 with the goaltender and before he could release a shot the trailing Panther wiped out everything in his sight (goal included). This desperate play left the officials with no other choice, but to call a penalty shot. Once the nets were relocated and ice cleared, Byers skated forward for a chance to finish the game. A gentle paced skate towards the goal saw the Storm captain zig and zag before unloading a well placed wristshot between Garnett’s blocker and pad to hand Manchester the two points.
A strong showing from the Storm this weekend will have pleased the staff and suporters as they pushed Cardiff all the way on the road and then follow this up with a solid home performance against a very strong Panthers outfit. Although, the injury to Shane Bakker increases the need for Manchester to remain disciplined, with the tough Canadian forward often the heartbeat of the PK unit. Two wins on home ice, against Big Four, should fill this roster with confidence as the gap between 6th and 10th remains just four points. On the other hand, a bitterly disappointing festive period for the Panthers has seen them drop points with regularity and win just 2 of their last 7 encounters. However, the high number of talented and experienced players on this Panthers roster should see them address this dip in form and finish comfortably within the Top 4.
MOM’s: Dane Byers (Storm) & Brett Perlini (Panthers)
SOG’s: Storm 34 & Panthers 43
Feature Image: Matt Collier