The benefits and pitfalls of withdrawing a netminder in favour of an extra skater were put into sharp focus for MK Lightning at the weekend.
On Saturday coach Pete Russell took off goalie Dean Skinns in a bid to get a late equaliser against Guildford Flames at MK Arena.
The move backfired as the Surrey team secured the points with a fourth goal on the empty net to make it 4-2.
A day later though it was Lightning who were rewarded as Swindon Wildcats withdrew Stevie Lyle while on a powerplay to give the side a six on four skater advantage at the Link Centre – only for James Griffin to blast into the unguarded goal and seal a 4-1 result for the visitors.
Such is the competitiveness of the English Premier League this season that, despite only gaining two out of four points, Lightning are still joint top of the table with Peterborough Phantoms. However the Cambridgeshire side have played three games less.
Sunday’s win at Swindon was sweet revenge for Lightning who had gone down 4-3 to Wildcats eight days earlier at MK Arena.
Lightning came back from going a goal behind midway through the second period when Corey McEwen broke the deadlock at 28mins 24secs.
It was not until the final session that Lightning levelled as Michael Farn fed captain Adam Carr who, in turn, supplied Blaz Emersic to defeat Lyle on 44mins 18secs.
Just over a minute later, on 45mins 31secs, the travellers went in front when Emersic returned the compliment to set up Carr to score.
Wildcats’ Neil Liddiard was penalised for clipping but he did not serve time in the sin bin because, on the delayed call, Jordan Cownie put Lewis Hook away to make it 3-1 to Lightning.
Lightning called a timeout with 1min 16secs remaining as Lyle was withdrawn.
Ten seconds later Farn was given two minutes for holding, prompting a Wildcats timeout before,
With 50 seconds remaining, Griffin destroyed the hosts’ hopes with his shorthanded empty net goal.
It went some way to make up for the previous evening’s disappointment when Lightning were second best to a well drilled Guildford Flames.
The home side struggled to put passes together with too many going astray and others that were cut out by Flames’ efficient forechecking which upset Lightning’s rhythm.
Flames took the lead on 6mins 11secs when Matt Towe supplied Matic Kralj behind the net. He swiftly fed the puck to Kevin Phillips in front of goal to beat Skinns.
Lightning ended the first session with a two man advantage when Marcus Kristofferson was sin binned for hooking with a minute to go, quickly followed into the penalty box by Tom Duggan, for tripping Marko Luomala.
But the home side failed to produce a single shot on goal when either five on three or five on four.
Cownie eventually put Lightning level on 26mins 13secs when Lewis Christie, on the blue line, blasted the puck towards goal with Adam Carr getting a touch before the Scot finished off.
A penalty on Ross Green had many fans puzzled and led to Flames retaking the lead on the powerplay - the player called for illegal equipment when all he seemed to have done was push Skinns’ stray stick towards him. Under a new rule that is deemed illegal.
Defenceman Danny Meyers unleashed a shot from the blue line which Skinns was able to stop but the goalie could not repeat the feat when same player fired in a second blue liner shortly after at 36mins 38secs to put the visitors back in front.
Phillips was sin binned for hooking with just over a minute of the second period remaining, giving MK a powerplay which spilled over into the third stanza.
It took just 53 seconds of the final period for Leigh Jamieson to cross the puck across the face of goal for Cownie to send home to the right of netminder Stephen Wall.
Flames went back in front as Towe fired in on goal with Skinns making the initial block before Kralj followed up to give Flames the lead again at 54mins 22secs.
As the seconds counted down Russell withdrew Skinns for the extra skater - a move which backfired as Erik Piatak fed Andrew Melachrino to score at 59mins 55sec, securing a 4-2 win for Flames.