All Star Game weekend meant that I was proud of my hometown for a multitude of reasons, but mostly, I was proud of a former Norris winner and a current Norris candidate. And their last names both are (or sound like) Karlsson.
The Capitals have lost seven games in a row, but, when they return from a well-deserved break on February 1st, they should do it with a little more vim and vigor. After a few players only meetings failed to break the skid, hopefully a break will. Who knows? Everything’s made of chaos and we all have to eat garbage occasionally. That’s just the way life is.
Toni Aleo knows how to write a compelling hockey romance novel. By now, that’s not in question. However with her 27 novels across 4 series she’s not a newbie to the genre and is showing readers with each new character that she adds that she can only get better.
Her newest novel ‘Juicy Rebound’ is no exception. Chandler Moon is another swoon-worthy man. He shows that love can conquer all and what can’t be fixed by love can be aided along by a kick in the balls and a broken nose from your girlfriend’s no nonsense taking cousin.
“Girl, I don’t run, but I’d power-walk for a guy with tattoos and a beard.”
It’s been another rough old week for the Steelers. After completing a four point weekend against bottom placed Milton Keynes Lightning, Steelers headed in three games in the space of five days: hoping to build up some momentum as the season starts to move into the real business end. What was to happen was certainly not in the script for sure.
The schedule started midweek when the title chasing Cardiff Devils rolled into the Steel City. Most people thought this was going to be lambs to the slaughter as the red juggernaut had recently seen off nearest challengers Belfast in the same double header weekend when the Steelers were seeing off the Lightning. Those fears seemed to be founded in the opening period as Devils outshot their hosts 15-4 and bagged a couple of goals in the process thanks to Joey Martin and captain Jake Morissette (yes it was ironic; don’t you think?).
After suffering a double defeat in the Viola Arena to leaders Cardiff Devils last weekend, Adam Keefe’s Belfast Giants went into their three games in three nights: eleven points behind the defending champions. It was a real hammer blow for the Giants and left them playing catch up hockey. Could they make any inroads into the deficit or would the weekend have more misery for the men in teal.
The game on Friday night sparked the first of 17 home league games for the Giants which includes a home double header in February against the afore mentioned Devils. But before that comes around, Giants needed to pick some points up and hope that the leaders would suffer a slip up here and there. However, the opponents on the Friday and Saturday night were Todd Dutiaume’s Fife Flyers: a team more than capable of inflicting more misery on the title chasing Giants.
A dominant performance from the Guildford Flames at the Spectrum on Wednesday night has heaped yet more misery on the indisciplined Nottingham Panthers as their poor run of form continues.
It took just 17 seconds for the first of the 8 minor penalties called against Nottingham, a slashing call on Bolduc. As his penalty was expiring, in a moment of madness he got his stick on a loose puck whilst still inside the penalty box, drawing an interference call – An opportunity the Flames powerplay didn’t waste a second time, as Jamie Crooks tipped Eric Lindhagen’s shot past Garnett.
The Flames had the better of the first period overall, but with 3:53 remaining, Mark Hurtubise, was quickest to react to a loose puck to level the score.
The Flames didn’t let their heads drop and forechecked hard. With 1:26 left on the clock, TJ Foster picked out Lindhagen, who quite literally bundled the puck over the line to restore the lead. Lindhagen’s fall into the puck, then the goal itself resulted in a Panthers bench request for a review, and following a look at the laptop, Matt Thompson signalled it as a good goal.
With just 19 seconds left in the period, a Crooks slash meant a powerplay for the Panthers and a moment’s lapse saw Alex Guptill enter the zone unchallenged, make his way towards Carrozzi and tie the game with 4 seconds to go.
The key to the game was the second period, and Guildford’s ability to banish the ghosts of the past 5 games which saw them concede 9 second period goals in total, and they had appeared to do so, coming out strong once again.
Bolduc then picked up his 3rd penalty of the night, and just 20 seconds later a Henderson slash saw the Flames go on a long 5-on-3.
It took just 22 seconds for the Flames to retake the lead, as Watters capitalised on a Reddick rebound.
The Panthers were unable to take advantage of a powerplay following a trip by Ackered, and soon after came the play of the night:
Good stick work along the boards saw Foster retain possession again 2 men inside the Flames zone and pass to Ferguson. Ferguson fired up ice without hesitation to Jamie Crooks, who controlled first time, putting himself 1-on-1 with Garnett, where he duly doubled the Flames advantage with just under a minute left in the period.
Into the third, and after multiple single faceoff violations throughout the game, Luke Pither was called for a double violation after just 40 seconds. A confident powerplay unit applied pressure and Ben Davies was able to shoot into an unguarded net following a huge rebound from a TJ Foster shot to pick up the fifth and final goal of the evening.
Flames Head Coach Paul Dixon: “I don’t think we could have come out with a better result than we did tonight. “The first game of a cup semi is really about keeping yourself in with a good chance in the 2nd leg, and we achieved more than we probably expected in that regard. “The score in the past few games has not always reflected what we have done on the ice, but tonight a really strong 60 minute effort by everyone shows in the final box tally and there is no question we are excited to be able to take this into leg 2. “Having said that, it is not a massive lead so this series is not over by any means and when the time comes to pay the return visit we will need to be ready for another good effort if we are going to grab a spot in the final.”
Panthers Head Coach Rick Strachan:“I thought from the start to the end we played poor. We made bad decisions with the puck and without the puck, We took needless penalty after penalty and it’s got to stop because it kills us every game. “They punished us tonight with three powerplay goals. The only positive I can take out of this is that we’ve still got three periods to play. “We came out flat and credit to Guildford, they skated circles around us and made us look silly at times.”
For the Panthers, there is still no end in sight to their bad run, which now stands at 15 losses in their last 20 games. They were still in the game at the end of the first, but couldn’t keep their discipline and could not keep up with the fast pace of the Flames. 12 shots in the first dropped to 8 in the second, and in the third the fight had gone, with just 4 shots on the Flames net. The Flames more than doubled the Panthers shot count with 46 shots on Garnett overall.
Guptill fought until the end, as did man of the match Hurtubise, but the Panthers look a million miles away form the team which put 8 past Guildford in December.
The biggest disappointment overall to the Panthers fans will be Chris Stewart, who not only stood and admired the rest of the team skating in the warmup rather than getting involved too much himself, but who’s only contribution was a shot from behind the goal to force a rebound from Carrozzi, but with no teammates to pick it up. If his performances continue to be more NIHL than NHL, then it’s hard to see how he can remain on the team.
This weekend their only game sees the league topping Cardiff Devils come to the Motorpoint, and they are coming off the back of 10 wins in a row. One of those wins went to overtime though, and that was against the Panthers.
This will be a rare game which will not only be streamed from the Motorpoint, but will be free to watch right here!
Guildford will be hoping that this excellent display will be the turning point of the season. Captain Jesse Craige played with newfound confidence and lead from the front. Calle Ackered was afforded the space to fire shot after shot for the first time in weeks, and you could see he was enjoying himself out there. Jez Lundin was calm and collected alongside Jordan Abt, and Baldwin and Lindhagen excelled once more, with Baldwin being the pick of the defenders.
Baldwin was the only player switched on mid-way through the first to Luke Pither on the blue line, preventing what would have been a breakaway chance to take the lead with the scores tied. His pokechecking was near perfect, not just separating the carrier from the puck, but also pushing the puck back out of the zone in a single move to disperse the attacking threat on more than one occasion.
Up top, the talk of the night was once again the second line. Jamie Crooks picked up the man of the match award for his 2 goals, but Brett Ferguson was a threat all night, picking up 3 assists and linemate T.J Foster lived up to his pre-match billing and worked hard on the wing, creating chances out of nothing, and using his speed to drag the Panthers defence out of position to open up lanes for others. The result of this? 4 assists.
Next up at the Spectrum are the Coventry Blaze on Saturday, and the Flames will be looking to avoid a repeat of their last couple of encounters, which saw a total of 25 goals and a shootout. But rather than focusing on that, they need to rekindle their Cup mindset once more and use the result against the Panthers as the turning point in the race for the playoffs.
A trip to Glasgow follows the next night, and the Flames will be looking to extend their unbeaten run against the Clan, before welcoming the Sheffield Steelers to the Spectrum on Wednesday in front of the Freesports cameras.
Four game losing streak! Four game losing streak! Four game losing streak! Four game losing streak!
While I freely admit that I’ve been busy with American football this week, the Capitals have helped me keep my attention on the pigskin by, well, sucking.
Tied in points with the Columbus Blue Jackets (fourth in the Eastern Conference), the Boston Bruins (sixth in the Eastern Conference), and the Montreal Canadiens (seventh in the Eastern Conference) at fifty-nine points, the Capitals have some serious ground to make up if they want to catch the New York Islanders (62 points) for first in the division or the Blue Jackets (59 points, +4 ROW) for second. Two games remain before the All Star Break — could the Capitals win either of them? Because both, given the team’s current state, seems like a little too big of an ask.
The Nottingham Panthers have won the Challenge Cup a record 8 times. In fact, in 8 final appearances, they are yet to lose. Impressive to say the least considering the competition is just 15 years old. But their last triumph was in 2016, and times have changed. For the Guildford Flames though, this is uncharted territory – Their first ever semi final appearance in any EIHL competition in just their second year.
P 5 W 1 L 4 GF 13 GA 20
Last Game: 02/01/19 Panthers 3 – 1 Flames
Last season was a very even affair between the Flames and Panthers, so even in fact that the Panthers could not find a way to beat the Flames in regulation time, both home and away. This season has been a very different story though, with the Panthers mostly dominating the Flames – The only exception being a 6-2 blowout at the Motorpoint Arena back in December.
Nottingham fans have been spoilt over the years, winning 15 domestic trophies in the opening 13 years of the Elite League. Their longest domestic trophy-less run dates all the way back to the mid 2000’s, where after winning the inaugural Challenge Cup in 2004, they had to wait until 2007 until they won their next trophy, which was their first Playoff triumph.
With the league title looking out of reach, they sit third in the race for the Erdhardt conference behind the two top teams in the league, Belfast & Cardiff and if they do not pick up a trophy this season, this will be their worst ever run in the Elite League.
The pressure is very much on, and the removal of Head Coach Rich Chernomaz after nine months in charge shows that Neil Black will not accept anything other than instant success. Former assistant coach Rick Strachan’s promotion has changed little, and although the Panthers come into the game off the back of a win (a shootout victory Vs. Fife on Sunday), whether you look at their past 5 games, or 10 games – They sit 10th in the form table. Only MK Lightning have a worse points return.
As poor as Nottingham have been in their last 10 games, the Flames have only been marginally better, picking up just a single point more than the Panthers. Unlike the Panthers, the Flames are coming into the game off the back of 3 losses.
But it’s not as bad as it may sound – The Flames lost their last 3 games by a single goal; 2 of those games going to overtime.
Against Fife at home last Saturday, the Flames dominated the shot count and were able to keep Fife in their own zone for large periods of the game but it was clear for all to see the team were not playing with confidence. In trying to force a perfect scoring opportunity, too often they played one pass too many, resulting in a turnover. When Fife took the lead, they didn’t bite back quite as they usually do.
The second period of the game will be key, and based on the past home form of the Flames could well not just decide the game, but the outcome of the contest. Every single man on the roster needs to breakout from the second period syndrome and forget both league form and the previous encounters with the Panthers – This semi final is a clean slate for all and the game is there for the taking.
#18 Brett Ferguson
Ferguson has a long way to go to hit the numbers he produced last year. After a very slow start on the second line, he has finally settled with linemates James Crooks and TJ Foster, and the Brett Ferguson of last season has finally appeared. Despite blanking last time out against Dundee, Ferguson has picked up an impressive 9 points in his past five games – 3 goals and 6 assists.
#27 Alex Guptill
Compared to Ferguson, it’s not striking in terms of numbers, but the top points scorer for the Panthers is averaging a point per game in his last five games – 3 goals and 2 assists. But make no mistake: Guptill is a natural goalscorer and given half a chance will punish lacklustre defences with ease.
#23 Corbin Baldwin
In recent weeks, Corbin Baldwin has been getting more and more vocal on the ice, and in Manchester at the start of the third period, he finally got to drop the gloves in what was a fairly even tilt against Springer. But although he can fight if necessary, Baldwin’s physical presence comes from his sheer size. At 6’5″ and 220lbs, he is the master of being in the right place at the right time – He just gets in the way, and if he decides to stop you, well – See for yourself:
Olsen is a solid, stay-at-home defender who was picked in the first round of the 2009 NHL draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. With over 100 NHL games to his name and a wealth of AHL experience, he is a man with a big body and he is not afraid to use it against anyone who dares to cross him!
#51 Kruise Reddick
Kruise Reddick is the top points scorer in the league at present. Last season he was good but this season he is playing with a chip on his shoulder and he is willing to get in anyone’s face who stands between him and the goal. His 2 goals in Manchester show his class and alongside Dunbar and Watters, very few teams have been able to shut him down over the past 2 seasons.
The only real weak point for Kruise at the moment appears to be in the faceoff circle – An area he usually dominates, he’s not been as effective recently and may struggle against the larger, powerful Panthers centermen.
#55 Chris Stewart
Chris Stewart has been a resounding disappointment in his 7 games in the UK so far. And if you do know know who he is, then you may be wondering why he is in this preview…
This is a man who arrived in Nottingham with 652 NHL games and 321 points to his name. Someone arriving with those numbers to play in the UK is huge, and the fact that 54 of those games were just last season is staggering.
From a Panthers perspective, this signing wasn’t just a signing of intent – Metaphorically speaking, the Panthers brought a gun to the fist fight which was the league title race. Unfortunately a gun is pretty useless unless it’s loaded, and it would appear that Chris Stewart left all his bullets stateside.
This guy should be one of the greatest signings in the history of Elite League hockey, but all early signs point to a guy looking to earn an easy paycheck. Maybe it’s just a lack of match fitness? Either way, a signing which should have sparked the team to life has failed to do so and the Panthers are out of the league title race.
But will Wednesday be the night Stewart announces himself onto the UK stage? Leagues mean very little across the pond, but could a knockout competition be what gets Stewart motivated?
#17 T.J Foster
T.J Foster almost falls into the category of Stewart – A Signing who so much was expected, but has failed to deliver. Almost.
Foster is a player who has scored at over a point per game in nearly every league he has played in. He has picked up a host of individual trophies, but has only showed flashes of what he can do whilst in Guildford.
He has finally settled on his line, next to former Alberta Golden Bears teammates Brett Ferguson and Jamie Crooks, and the trio are currently outscoring the ever-dominant Watters – Reddick – Dunbar line….!
Foster’s vision and stickhandling can create opportunities out of any situation within a split second. He won’t ever out-muscle an opponent, but he will out-smart them, and given half a chance, can fire past a netminder before they even know the puck is coming.
#9 Brett Perlini
Ex-players always seem to come back and do well against their old teams, right? Well, Perlini always seems to do well against Guildford at the Spectrum.
Yes, I’m talking about a man who has never pulled on a Guildford Flames jersey, but make no mistake about it – Brett Perlini is a Guildford lad who not only grew up and played the bulk of his junior career at the Spectrum under the guidance of his father, the great Fred Perlini, but still comes back to visit Guildford from time to time. Just this past summer he came down with his brother, Chicago Blackhawk, Brendan, to meet up with old friends and visit old haunts.
Perlini was a standout player in Nottingham last year, but hasn’t hit the same heights this year. But make no mistake about it, if you see the number 9 crashing the net, then don’t be surprised to see the red light come on shortly after.
Will Hobson (Chasing the Puck Nottingham Panthers writer): “I think I can safely say both teams have struggled of late, with Panthers finally getting a win against Fife on Sunday. We are hoping for a resurgence under Strachan who has openly said he will allow the players more offensive freedom. Stewart has disappointed fans so far but it could be that he’s finding his feet and isn’t match fit yet. Guptill as ever will be a threat; he’s been consistent with the Panthers. Rheault scored his first goal for the Panthers at the weekend and is performing like he did in pre season.
“Defensively we are frail at times and we will be relying on yet another strong performance from Garnett in net.
“Other than Garnett, I couldn’t comment on the starting line. Cherno changed it most games and not sure Strachan has an ideal first line. One line has been playing together is Guptill, Hertubise and Rheault. It’s been quite successful as all 3 have scored and assisted this last weekend.”
Guildford Flames Projected Lines
With Evan Ritt back to fitness and expected to return to the lineup following injury for such a big game, the expectation is that Kevin King will be the unfortunate import who will have to make way for his return. Richard Krogh and Josh Waller will pull their Flames jerseys on once more following their return from U20 GB duty, where they picked up a bronze medal.
The real stand out stat for both teams is that Josh Waller finished the tournament as the second overall highest points scorer with 5 goals and 4 assists in 5 games. Waller has been getting more and more game time in recent weeks and although the Flames will only be able to roll 3 full lines, there is every chance that Waller will see some decent minutes.
Further down the lines, Abt, Lindhagen and Baldwin have been quietly going about their business, keeping the opposition attacks at bay more often than not, and can be credited along with both Carrozzi and Fullerton for giving the team a fighting chance of victory each night.
Which leads to the final question of who gets the nod to start the game in net….
Flames Head Coach Paul Dixon:“Everyone within the organisation is excited about being part of our first ever Elite League Cup semi final appearance. The guys in the dressing room are proud to be part of this first milestone achievement for the club, but they are a competitive bunch and they are not satisfied just getting this far.
“To make it a bit more special, we are up against Nottingham Panthers, perhaps a team that could be labelled as the Flagship franchise in this country. Panthers have had our number this season winning 4 of our 5 head to head meetings so far. There is no question if we are planning to move on, we are going to have to do better than what we have done against them to this point.
“Our only win was in December when we won on the road, and though it was only one, at least it was all the proof we need to show ourselves that we can compete with them.
“We are going to do everything we can to lay it all on the ice for the 2 legs of the semifinal, and hopefully we can get a bounce or two here and there to find ourselves in the championship game come March.”