Elite League weekend preview

Coventry Blaze Head Coach Chuck Weber says his team have given themselves a solid platform to build on in 2016.

Back-to-back 5-3 wins over Nottingham Panthers ensured Blaze finished the year with 11 points from their last seven Elite League games.

Blaze now head to Belfast Giants on Saturday night, before the teams meet again at the Skydome on Sunday.

Weber said: “We want to keep this run going and keep pushing forward. We ended 2015 the right way and we would like to start 2016 the right way.

“Belfast are a talented team and they have some guys who are playing really well and in Derrick Walser they have the most dynamic defenseman in the league.

“We are going to lose a few along the way but we are finally back to .500 in league play and now we want to push ahead of .500.”

Nottingham bid to bounce back from a miserable Christmas run that seriously dented their title hopes.

Panthers picked up two points from a possible eight and have now won just seven of their last 16 games.

They host Edinburgh Capitals on Saturday having dropped to fourth in the table, seven points behind leaders Cardiff Devils with two games in hand.

Head Coach Corey Neilson is adamant Panthers can get back on track.

“We’ve still got a tonne of weapons – we’re the most offensively laden team we’ve had here,” he said.

“The results dipped when we went on the road. It was at that time we had a lot of goaltender trouble.

“Miika (Wiikman) hasn’t been fit and he’s a huge part of our team. If your goaltender is your best player you have a chance to win every night. He can win games on his own.

“The game comes down to goals. If you concede a goal, or two, early it hurts. Teams play differently when they score first against you.

“We end up playing against five guys right in front of the net. It makes it tough to claw back. We need better starts.”

Edinburgh, who go into the game on the back of an eight-game losing run, produced a much-improved performance at home to Fife Flyers on Thursday.

Player/Coach Riley Emmerson was happy with his players’ attitude.

“In this slump we’ve had, this was the most well-rounded game we’ve had,” said Emmerson. “We didn’t get the result we wanted but it was a step in the right direction and a more team-committed game.

“Everyone showed up to play and showed that they cared. It was a great atmosphere and both teams fed off it.

“Some of my players who have not been here that long maybe didn’t appreciate how much this rivalry with Fife means to our fans. I think today helped them realise how big it is.”

Manchester Storm travel to Sheffield Steelers on Saturday hoping to build on their promising start to life in the Elite League.

Storm blew a 4-1 lead against the Steelers on New Year’s Day to lose 5-4 after overtime, but Player/Coach Omar Pacha is still targeting a top-eight finish.

“It’s been a very challenging first half of the season, there’s been a lot of stuff to sort out off the ice, but that seems to be settling down now.

“On the ice, we’ve been improving all along. Again, nobody has given us much chance because we’re a new club in the league.

“But we don’t just want to be in this league. We want to make the play-offs – to miss out would be extremely disappointing.

“We pushed the leaders Cardiff Devils close on the road on Wednesday and if we can maintain that level of performance, then I’m confident we can make the play-offs, which would be some achievement.”

WEEKEND FIXTURES

Saturday

Belfast Giants v Coventry Blaze
Cardiff Devils v Dundee Stars
Fife Flyers v Braehead Clan
Nottingham Panthers v Edinburgh Capitals
Sheffield Steelers v Manchester Storm

Sunday

Braehead Clan v Cardiff Devils
Coventry Blaze v Belfast Giants
Dundee Stars v Fife Flyers
Edinburgh Capitals v Sheffield Steelers

(Image permission: Scott Wiggins)

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