THE English Premier League is proving to be the most competitive it has ever been, with MK Lightning experiencing the highs and lows of some entertaining matches at the weekend.
On Saturday night the city side saw off old rivals Peterborough Phantoms 4-1 at Planet Ice to rise to fourth place in the league, but just 24 hours later they had slipped to eighth spot after losing the return game at Bretton 5-2.
Incredibly, after most teams have completed eight or nine of their fixtures, there are five teams – half of the competition – on 10 points. And only four points separates the leaders, Manchester Phoenix, from Lightning in eighth place. Among that bunch are pre-season favourites to win the title, league champions Guildford Flames, who are seventh.
Lightning ran out deserved winners on Saturday, with Phantoms lacking a cutting edge around goal, despite outshooting the home side 39-31. Import forwards Jeff Glowa, Maris Ziedins and Ondrej Lauko, were all largely ineffective, with the best opportunities coming from their British players.
Chris Wiggins was back in the Lightning side following injury – and he had a start to remember as he scored the first goal, unassisted after 2mins 22secs.
Adam Calder forced goalie Damien King into a fine save a minute or so later as Lightning looked to increase their lead.
Adam Carr took the first penalty on 14mins 18secs when he was penalised for elbows, but Peterborough were unable to make anything of the extra man – their only real chances coming from James Hutchinson and Luke Ferrara – both dealt with by goalie Alex Mettam.
It was not until 1min 10secs from the first break that the home side were able to increase their lead thanks to good work by Nick Chinn who resisted the temptation to shoot and instead passed across the face of goal for Carr to fire in.
Phantoms were forced to make most of their shots from long distance as they attempted to get back in the game, but they fell further behind on 34mins 3secs. The goal came with a slice of magic from Nick Poole who, with his back to goal, received a pass from Lewis Christie, turned, and fired the puck past King to make it 3-0.
Phantoms quickly hit back 1min 16secs later when Mettam blocked the first shot but was unable to prevent Lewis Hook’s following-up.
The visitors increased the pressure on Lightning during the third session but they could find no way through as Mettam really earned his man of the match award with saves from James Ferrara and Maris Ziedins.
Phantoms’ prospects were finally extinguished when a fine pass from Calder was smashed home by Leigh Jamieson for the hosts’ fourth goal after 58mins 15secs.
However, Sunday night will be one Lightning want to forget in a hurry as little went right from even before the first puck was dropped at Peterborough.
The ice cutting machine broke down, causing a delay to face-off, and when the game eventually started it was without the ice being resurfaced.
Within two minutes Lightning were behind when Will Weldon opened Phantoms’ tally on 1min 58secs from James Ferrara and Robert Ferrara.
Before the four minute mark Calder was out of the contest on a five minutes plus game penalty for a high stick which drew blood from Josef Sladok. Second later at 4min 9secs, Phantoms bagged their second goal with Lauko registering on the powerplay.
A penalty filled first period ended with Sladok also being given his marching orders on a five minutes plus game call.
Things started better for Lightning in the second period as Poole set Lukas Zatopek for a powerplay strike on 22mins 11secs. But the home lead was quickly restored to two goals with Lauko the provider for Tom Carlon after 23mins 58secs.
Just over 90secs later – at 25mins 34secs – Wiggins provided the pass for Grant McPherson to blast into the back of the net.
Neither side could take advantage of powerplay chances resulting from a 28th minute penalty on Ross Bowers for interference, and a delay of the game call on Tom Norton in the 33rd minute, with the middle session ending 3-2 to the home side.
The third period was relatively quiet, with Lightning’s hopes extinguished when Lauko set up Carlon for his second goal after 48mins 18secs.
James Ferrara then made it 5-2 after 50mins 27secs before Lightning called a timeout, which ultimately failed to turn the tide on a disappointing night as Phantoms were left the happier of the sides from the weekend’s double-header.