Double defeats left Milton Keynes Lightning with a fruitless weekend after they went down 7-0 at Swindon Wildcats and then lost our 6-4 at home to league newcomers Leeds Chiefs.
Numerous silly penalties cost Lightning who went 2-0 down at Planet ice on Sunday before drawing level and then seeing Leeds go ahead again and from then on trailing until the final buzzer.
On Saturday Lightning made the journey to Swindon in miserable weather and on the ice at the Link Centre things didn’t improve as goalie Jordan Lawday had little to celebrate on his return to the team after injury.
Lightning were missing the Grant McPherson, James Griffin and Russ Cowley, all injured, plus Harry Ferguson suspended and the unavailable Lewis Christie. They welcomed back the experienced Tom Carlon, signed on a short term contract to cover the absences, but it was not enough to halt Wildcats.
The hosts’ strength in depth paid off as early as 8mins 57secs when Polish international Tomasz Malasinski finished off. Lawday performed heroics in the MK net but he could not stop Wildcats from adding a second goal on 17mins 40secs through Floyd Taylor.
Lightning were outshot 14-8 in the first period and although they improved on the offence in the middle session to slightly outshoot Swindon 14-13 they were unable to gain a breakthrough as the home side made it 3-0 after 27mins 50secs with Max Birbraer on the mark. Just over four minutes later Birbraer struck again on 31mins 55secs.
An early third period penalty on Ross Green at 42mins 10secs for holding proved costly – Swindon registered just 18 seconds later through a strike from Edgars Bebris. Lightning saw off one slashing penalty on Carlon but they were not so lucky when the same player went for an identical offence on 48mins 7secs – Aaron Nell getting in on the scoring act at 49mins 14secs.
Birbraer went on to complete his hat-trick just over three minutes later at 52mins 32secs in a period in which Swindon had a 15-3 shots on goal advantage.
Against Leeds the home side quickly found themselves defending a short-handed spell when Carlon went for slashing after just 48 seconds – Chiefs capitalised through Adam Barnes at 1min 50secs and then added a second on a powerplay resulting from a four-minute penalty on Tomas Kana for roughing. This time the scorer was Andres Kopstals at 12mins 13secs.
Lightning failed to score on two Leeds’ penalties but they did get on the scoresheet when youngster Rio Grinell-Parke found the net after 17mins 37secs. It was the same player who was on target when MK were able to take advantage after Richard Bentham was sin-binned for slashing – bringing Lightning level after 22mins 28secs as Cale Tanaka assisted.
However, it was not long before the visitors, who arrived late due to their bus breaking down, were back in front thanks to Steven Moore at 27mins 2secs. Just 50 seconds later Leeds restored the two-goal cushion they had enjoyed earlier when alternate captain Joe Coulter got in on the scoring act.
MK, to their credit, responded with an Ari Nähri assisted goal from Carlon on 30mins 27secs before Leigh Jamieson set up to Tanaka fire home at 31mins 16secs.
That was the last time Chiefs’ net was breached and the visitors quickly restored their advantage on 33mins 35secs when Barnes registered for a second time while Nähri was serving time for cross-checking.
There was always the chance of another fightback from the home outfit but that became slightly less likely after Kopstals scored an unassisted marker on 41mins 21secs while Leeds were short-handed with Bentham in the penalty box for hooking. That gave Leeds a 6-4 lead they were never to surrender – the visitors outshooting the hosts 19-9 in the final stretch.
Lightning will be hoping that the arrival of former Elite League forward, Liam Stewart, in a couple of weeks’ time will help them turn their fortunes around – and more importantly, lift them off the foot of the National Ice Hockey League. His arrival will come not a moment too soon.