Leeds Knights: Milton Keynes Lightning promise to provide stern test for depleted Knights
LEEDS KNIGHTS head south tonight preparing to face-off against one of NIHL National’s form teams in Milton Keynes Lightning.
Only leaders Swindon Wildcats have a better record than the Lightning at the moment, Aaron Nell’s team having won nine of their last 10 league games to overtake Sheffield Steeldogs at the top of the standings.
But Milton Keynes are no slouches, a run of six straight wins catapulting them up to third in the table, just four points off Swindon.
Former Hull Pirates’ forward Bobby Chamberlain leads their scoring, with 16 goals and 18 assists in 19 appearances in all competitions.
Leeds’s only previous meeting with the Lightning came in early October in the Autumn Cup when they returned home 6-3 winners, but head coach Dave Whistle is expecting a tougher night.
“They and Swindon are the form teams,” said Whistle. “The way it has been going lately, we have still been giving up too many scoring opportunities and we just can’t afford do that against Milton Keynes.
“They’ve got some quality goalscorers on their team, some really good offensive players and when we played them before, Liam Stewart wasn’t able to play, but he’s back playing for them and adds a lot of depth to their team. They are going to hard to beat.”
The Knights enjoyed their own six-game winning streak at the start of the season and Whistle wants his players to get back to being a team others don’t look forward to facing.
“We want to get that feeling back where we are a hard team to beat, we don’t want teams wanting to play us, we want teams to be worried about playing us.
“Right now, we’re just starting that process again because of the injuries we’ve suffered and the length of time those players have been out.
“You can get away with a game here and a game there, or be missing two guys for one game, but you can’t double-shift guys in this league for 60 minutes for two games in a row, they get tired and we had to do that for about six weeks.”
Leeds were expecting to have Cole Shudra back for the weekend after a seven-week injury lay-off, but he has been called back up to the Elite League by parent club Sheffield Steelers as part of the two-way deal between the clubs.
And with winger Harry Gulliver and defenceman Ben Solder required by Manchester Storm for their EIHL clash at home to Guildford Flames, it leaves Whistle with just seven forwards and four D, as 17-year-old forward Mack Stewart is also unavailable this weekend.
Solder is expected to be back for tomorrow’s trip to Slough to take on Bees IHC, but Gulliver will not be available.
Third-line centre Joe Coulter will be out for around two more weeks, while defenceman Ross Kennedy – missing since November 7 with an upper-body injury – is possibly further away from a return.
“We were looking forward to getting Cole back with us this weekend, but the Steelers need him as they have their own injury problems at the moment,” said Whistle.
“Hopefully we’ll get him back next weekend because he brings such a lot to our team.
“Cole is a really good two-way player, he looks after his own zone, he kills penalties, he blocks shots and gets in the lanes – he understands the defensive side of the game.
“He is a smart hockey player and it’s too bad he got hurt when he did because he was going really well.
“The bodies are slowly coming back, which is great, but it also takes a little while to get them back into game shape.
“With practising just twice a week, it takes a little more time to get them feeling the puck, making the right decisions with the puck, it can sometimes take a couple of games to get back into it.”