IF most of the teams below MK Lightning were to quit the English Premier League, then the city outfit might actually challenge for the title!
Yet again Nick Poole’s men left fans scratching their heads at the weekend when they fell to a lower placed team, but then overcame a side chasing the league title.
It is Lightning’s form against the struggling sides that has cost them the chance of lifting the league crown this season. Now the best they can realistically hope for is third spot – provided they can overtake Manchester Phoenix. They currently sit fourth, three points behind Manchester but with a game in hand.
Lightning have this season taken 20 points from teams placed above them in the table, but conversely conceded 16 points to sides behind them in the standings.
In the past four weeks it has become almost possible to predict the outcomes with a victory against leaders Guildford Flames being followed by a loss to ninth placed Sheffield, then defeat to eighth placed Peterborough being consigned to history with a next day win at Guildford.
On Saturday Lightning suffered the agony of a 2-1 overtime loss to Steeldogs – a game they should have, on the balance of play, won – before redeeming themselves with a superb 3-1 success at second in the table Basingstoke Bison.
Lightning were missing both Nick Chinn and Lukas Zatopek for Saturday’s clash – the Czech having warmed up appeared on the team sheet and so prevented ‘spare’ import, Poole, from taking his place.
Poole did however return to the fray on Sunday in injured Zatopek’s continued absence – after possibly the shortest retirement in hockey history – while Chinn was again unable to play.
The clash with Steeldogs was for hockey purists not a classic encounter, particularly in the first period which was interrupted by an almost constant series of penalties for both teams.
In fact it took just 27 seconds before the visitors’ Greg Wood was called for tripping. Lightning were unable to register on the powerplay and it cost them dearly when Lubimor Korhon was able to send Edgars Bebris away to beat goalie Stephen Wall to score for Steeldogs at 2mins 49secs.
It proved to be the only goal of the period as Sheffield player/coach Andre Payette led his team’s goon tactics in order to put Lightning off their game.
The hosts started the middle period brightly with Blaz Emersic setting up Janne Jokila for a fine shot which was saved by goalie Dalibor Sedlar before the netminder blocked a Leigh Jamieson effort with his stick.
Sheffield drew more of the penalties in the second 20 minutes and Lightning were finally able to take advantage on the powerplay when Kamil Tvrdek provided the pass to present Adam Carr with a simple knock in at the far post on 34mins 51secs.
With just over a minute to go Ross Bowers’ shot hit the outside of the pipework and the sides went in all square at 1-1.
Payette once again showed the ugly side of his play, picking up a slashing penalty right on the buzzer to give Lightning a powerplay for the first two minutes of the final session – one that again was fruitless.
Steeldogs’ best chance early on came when Bebris’ shot hit the side netting while Lightning saw two good opportunities for Bowers and Janne Jokila fail to hit the target.
In the last six minutes Steeldogs were given a powerplay when Lewis Christie was handed a two minutes plus 10 penalty for checking Lloyd Gibson from behind but the home side held firm.
As the game went into sudden death overtime Steeldogs’ Stuart Brittle sat out a slashing call on Tvrdek.
Just as the match looked as though it would need a penalty shoot out to decide the victor Ben Morgan somehow found a gap beyond Wall with 50 seconds remaining to seal the two points for the Yorkshire team – the hosts having to be content with a single point.
Lightning were first off the mark at Basingstoke on Sunday when Adam Brittle was the provider for Jamieson on 16mins 37secs – a lead held by Lightning at the first break and in fact until 35mins 19secs when Tony Redmond supplied Joe Rand for a short handed goal – team mate Alex Symonds having been penalised for cross checking and slashing at the same time as Jokila was handed a two minute spell for elbows and 10 minutes for abuse of an official.
There was all to play for going into the third session but Bison suffered an early blow when he was handed a five minutes plus game penalty for a check to the head of Christie.
Lightning retook the lead while the sides were four on four after Ross Green was given two minutes for holding – the supplier was Tvrdek with Emersic registering on 47mins 25secs.
Just over two minutes later Jamieson set up Tvrdek for a powerplay goal to make it 3-1 and despite three further Bison powerplays they could not find a way back as Lightning held on for maximum points.
Lightning go to Swindon Wildcats on Thursday to play a re-arranged fixture before on Saturday entertaining Guildford at 7pm. Sunday sees them making the trip to Telford Tigers at 5.30pm.