EIHL: A changing of the guard?

Justin Faryna, Cardiff Devils celebrates against Sheffield Steelers (Pic: Helen Brabon)
Justin Faryna, Cardiff Devils celebrates against Sheffield Steelers (Pic: Helen Brabon)

Have we just witnessed a changing of the guard moment in the Elite League?

Newcomers Guildford Flames moved above Sheffield Steelers and into the top four in the league standings at the weekend – and with games in hand.

Braehead Clan v Guildford Flames  (Pic: Al Goold)

Braehead Clan v Guildford Flames (Pic: Al Goold)

The contrasting fortunes of those two teams also underlines how open this league race is.

The big four may still have the clout to sign the top names and strongest rosters, but, on the ice, they are being knocked around like tenpins.

Cardiff Devils and Belfast Giants still look strong, but even they are being made to work for their win bonuses, while teams such as Nottingham are hitting some sticky patches – just one point from four at the weekend.

Sheffield Steelers would have killed to have such returns after crashing 4-1 in Cardiff and then returning home to be beaten 3-1 by Fife Flyers.

Those results came on the back of the hairdryer treatment from coach Paul Thomson after the previous week’s defeats. He cancelled their day off and promised his team a tough day at the rink hoping for a spark. At this rate he may have to cancel Christmas to get the reaction he wants ...

Post-game against Flyers and Tommo was left to reflect on a team grasping for confidence, and in desperate need of halting the soundtrack of boos which marked the final buzzer.

Where Steelers go from here is going to be interesting to watch.

While the club will steady the ship – if that means shaking up thew room and firing a players then that is exactly what they will do – they are also grappling with a much more even playing field in the EIHL. The days when victories were expected as standard may be changing.

The expansion to 12 has opened up the league and made it much more competitive.

Fife remain the dark horses – the team everyone is looking at in a very new light as they continue to post some eye-catching results.

Their games in hand – up to six over some clubs – could be crucial as 2018 moves into view. Coaches and fans across the EIHL are keeping a wary eye on their progress.

At the same time, they are also taking note of a Guildford Flames outfit buzzing with enthusiasm, and notching some big wins and four-point weekends.

At Braehead Clan, they turned a 3-1 deficit into a 5-3 victory with a stunning third period blitz to make it seven wins from eight starts.

Interesting to see Clan’s assistant coach, Richard Hartmann, identify the loss of a short-handed goal as the catalyst – that and the lack of push back which must be of concern to the team’s coaching staff.

Clan then headed to Wales to face Cardiff Devils – still one of the top two teams in the league – and built up a very impressive 3-1 lead only to see their hosts crush them with a third period rally.

Those defeats left Clan in tenth spot, marooned in no man’s land between the play-off berths and the basement. They remain a team in need of a winning streak to fire their season.

Coventry Blaze could also do with stabilising their see-saw season.

They weren’t at the races as MK Lightning swept to a 6-1 victory, only to sparkle 24 hours later with a 7-2 thumping of Manchester Storm.

A three-goal blitz in the opening five minutes set them on the road to a third win in four outings, but Danny Stewart’s side have yet to catch fire some 25 games into the campaign and remain stuck in ninth spot. There is still much work to do down at the Skydome ...

Manchester’s role as early pacesetters at the top of the table appears to have ended, with the team now down in sixth, but on home ice they remain a tough nut to crack, as Nottingham Panthers discovered on Saturday, going down 2-1 in overtime.

They didn’t tie the game until the third period, and then Matt Beca struck the golden goal to claim full points and stay part of the chasing pack.

Edinburgh Capitals have pledged re-inforcements for the New Year, but their season is rapidly heading for the rocks.

In their ‘must win’ game against Dundee Stars on Friday they were wiped out by a Justin Fox hat-trick in a 4-2 defeat, and were then brushed aside 7-2 when Guildford came to Murrayfield.

Caps are now 11 points adrift of Stars at the bottom of the table, and 16 behind third bottom Braehead. It’s going to be a long winter across the Forth ...