Milton Keynes Lightning suffered double disappointment at the weekend when a 6-3 home defeat at the hands of high flying Belfast Giants was followed by a 6-1 loss at Sheffield Steelers.
The results meant that Lighting have now gone on a three game losing streak – their longest of the season so far with both defeats at the hands of big budget teams playing out of arenas with spectator capacities at least four times larger than MK Arena’s.
Lightning will be hoping to bounce back on Saturday when Dundee Stars make their first visit to Milton Keynes at 7pm.
Belfast’s win was Lightning’s third home defeat of the season in a result that was an exact reverse of MK’s 6-3 success in September.
There was no denying that Lightning were beaten by the better team – Giants were often quicker to the puck and able to make their accurate passing count where it mattered most – in front of goal.
While the game saw personal triumphs for Matt Nickerson and Jonathan Boxill who both scored their debut goals of the season – the American also picking up the man of the match award – they would have gladly swapped those achievements for a home victory.
But after Nickerson was set free by Francis Verreault-Paul to dance his way through the Giants’ defence to register from close range on 2mins 23secs, the visitors made most of the running with all three of their unanswered replies coming as a result of razor sharp reactions in front of the net.
Giants levelled on a five on three powerplay Darcy Murphy one timed the puck in at 10mins 2secs.
The second period was just 1min 22secs old when Lightning fell into arrears –Brit Colin Shields turning the puck in past goalie Miika Wiikman.
Just under five minutes later, on 26mins 40secs, Wiikman’s goal was breached again when Murphy again turned the puck past the goalie.
Lightning cut the deficit on 33mins as they caused confusion in front of the Belfast goal – Verreault-Paul and Guillaume Doucet involved in Denny Kearney’s strike from close range.
Giants edged further ahead on 46mins 39secs – but only after referee Tom Darnell consulted a video replay several times to ascertain that Ryan Martinelli’s shot had crossed the line before Wiikman knocked his net off its moorings.
Any slim hope Pete Russell’s men had was extinguished by Steve Saviano’s fantastic top shelf shot to the far side of Wiikman on 51mins 13secs.
There was some consolation as Carl Hudson’s blue line blast was fumbled by goalie Jackson Whistle to allow Brit Boxill to follow up with a simple tap in at 55mins 4secs to make it 5-3.
Kevin Raine spent most of the final two minutes in the sin bin for roughing on Kearney – MK coach Peter Russell calling an immediate time out and withdrawing Wiikman for the extra skater in a move which backfired within eight seconds as Saviano calmly dribbled the puck into the empty net at 58mins 6secs.
The following day at Sheffield Arena the hosts gained swift revenge over MK with a comfortable 6-1 victory to put to bed their 7-2 loss at MK Arena eight days previously.
The visitors survived a sixth minute holding penalty dished out to Verreault-Paul with Quin Pompi briefly joining him in the sin bin for delaying the game. It was while the latter was still in the box that Steelers went ahead thanks to a John Armstrong goal after 9mins 10secs.
Steelers added to their lead 1min 20secs into the middle stanza when Colin Fretter beat Wiikman.
Lightning held firm when Nickerson was consigned to the cooler five minutes later and instead registered short-handed through Kyle Essery, helped by Christian Isackson and Pompi after 27mins 58secs.
Steelers made the most of a penalty on Kevin King to forge a 3-1 second break lead when Mark Matheson scored 51 seconds from the intermission.
Failure to convert on an early third period powerplay cost Lightning dearly when Robert Dowd hit the fourth goal for the hosts after 50mins 54secs.
That led to an immediate time out by Russell and the withdrawal of Wiikman in favour of Jordan Hedley.
The young Brit was soon called into action as MK were reduced to four skaters when Denny Kearney was called for charging – Steelers adding a fifth goal on the powerplay at 54mins 33secs through Roy, aided by Fretter.
Just over two minutes later the same player drove the final nail into the visitors’ miserable night – the goal assisted again by Fretter to make it 6-1.