Sheffield Steelers began the job of dismantling Cardiff Devils’ lead at the top with a resounding 6-1 win over Nottingham Panthers.
In one of their six games in hand, they narrowed the gap to 11 points.
Cardiff are on a six-match winning streak so Sheffield cannot take a night off. And they certainly didn’t do that on Sunday evening.
Paul Thompson’s men, who had carved out a 5-4 road win in Nottingham the previous night and were two imports down to injury, (Zack Fitzgerald and Andreas Valdix) played some of their best hockey of the season in the opening 20 minutes.
Their passing was crisp, their play direct and their forwards skating with ferocious pace, using every inch of the big Sheffield Arena ice.
In the second shift of the game, defenceman Mike Ratchuk set up an attack in which Robert Dowd scored from a weird angle (1.42.)
On a power play, Levi Nelson whacked in a cracker from just above the left circle.
And then another howitzer, this time from Davey Phillips, the d-man smashing the puck as he skated backwards. It looked like another seven goal mauling was on the cards but goaltender Jindrich Pacl stopped Dowd and Jesse Schultz and Markus Nilsson was a ginger whisker wide.
Nottingham, playing their 700th league game, were being made to look slow and pedestrian. Nilsson’s speed and stick-handling skills was too hot for them to handle whenever he was on the pad.
Pacl got off to a wretched start to the middle period, the netminder falling back on to a trickling puck directed by Nelson and seemed only to help it over the line (12;13.)
Then the value of passing accuracy was underlined by both sides. John Amstrong’s short inside switch allowed Ratchuk to make it 5-0.
But at the other end, Jeff Brown’s pass across the slot isolated Ervins Mustukovs and set up Logan Macmillan to open Panthers’ account (29.39.)
It was a goal that excited some ironic cheers from the travelling support. The strike, though, gave Nottingham some hope, of sorts.
And penalties to Jonathan Philipps and Nilsson gave them opportunities on the Power Play.
But Steelers’ penalty killing is quite an art.
And when they got back to full strength they killed the game off as man of the match Ratchuk scored his second of the night.
After that 54th minute goal, Nottingham were lambs to the slaughter.
They ran out of steam and ideas - and left to reflect on a weekend of double defeat to the champions.
Sunday 4th December
Coventry Blaze 6 Manchester Storm 2
Dundee Stars 3 Braehead Clan 6
Edinburgh Capitals 3 Belfast Giants 6
Sheffield Steelers 6 Nottingham Panthers 1
Wednesday 7th December
Challenge Cup 1/4 Final 1st leg
Dundee Stars v Cardiff Devils - 7.30pm
Thursday 8th December
Challenge Cup 1/4 Final 1st leg
Braehead Clan v Nottingham Panthers - 7.30pm
Saturday 10th December
Belfast Giants v Sheffield Steelers - 7.00pm
Braehead Clan v Edinburgh Capitals - 7.00pm
Cardiff Devils v Nottingham Panthers - 7.00pm
Coventry Blaze v Dundee Stars - 7.00pm
Fife Flyers v Manchester Storm - 7.15pm
Sunday 11th December
Cardiff Devils v Sheffield Steelers - 6.00pm
Dundee Stars v Braehead Clan - 6.30pm
Edinburgh Capitals v Fife Flyers - 6.00pm
Manchester Storm v Belfast Giants 5.30pm
Nottingham Panthers vCoventry Blaze - 5.00pm