WATCH: Sheffield Steeldogs 5 Leeds Chiefs 2 - Frustration for Chiefs as Dogs exact swift revenge
IN the end it was a case of ‘as you were’ for Leeds Chiefs as they came out of their weekend double-header against Sheffield Steeldogs still bottom of the NIHL National standings.
But, there need not be too much cause for concern for Sam Zajac’s team given how long they have left in their debut season to turn themselves into a play-off contender.
They remain only four points off the crucial top-eight places that guarantee a spot in the post-season and there are 36 regular season games remaining.
They have shown already this season that they have what it takes to be competitive and, once they get inside their new Elland Road rink - to at least practice if not actually stage games - their season will surely take a welcome upward turn.
For now, home games look likely to continue to be staged at guest venues, including Blackburn where on Saturday they were able to record their first win on ‘home ice’ - Adam Barnes’s hat-trick strike seeing them come from behind to defeat the Steeldogs 6-5 in overtime.
Last night, as the teams met for a fifth time this season at Ice Sheffield, they could not repeat the trick, Ben Morgan’s team full value for their 5-2 win on a night when the Chiefs seemed a touch flat.
That was despite taking the lead inside the first five minutes and, once the Steeldogs levelled in slightly fortunate circumstances five minutes later, there looked likely to be only one winner, moreso the case as the hosts went in 4-1 to the good after 40 minutes.
Leeds rallied for a brief spell early in the third but could not find a way through Dimitri Zimozdra before the Steeldogs extended their lead further, Liam Charnock’s first Chiefs’ goal - coming against his former club - proving nothing more than a consolation.
Player-coach Zajac said afterwards he felt his team were flat during the warm-up, so was probably as surprised as anybody by the start they enjoyed, going a goal to the good with only 4.25 on the board through Radek Meidl.
Brodie Jesson and Charnock then both went close, the latter’s effort chiming Zimozdra’s right-hand post, but it wasn’t long before the hosts were celebrating themselves.
Chiefs’ netminder Sam Gospel, so often the hero this season, somehow misjudged the time he had on the puck behind his net, losing out to Alex Graham who was then free to fire into the exposed net at 10.54.
The always-lively Kieran Brown nearly squeezed one past Gospel after rounding the net before - with James Archer in the box on a hooking call - Graham doubled his and his team’s tally on the power play from in front at 17.02.
Brown’s chemistry with linemates Nathan Salem and Jan Danecek was producing some inventive offence with Gospel the busier of the two goalies, the Chiefs made to pay again when
Luke Boothroyd lost out to Charlie Thompson, who set up Vladimir Luka for a simple tap-in at 27.33.
Four minutes later, it was effectively game over when Salem was left with a similarly simple score for a second power play marker of the night.
The fifth goal in the 49th minute proved the most contentious moment of the night, a three-man break by the Steeldogs with only Gospel to beat eventually seeing the puck fall to Thomas Relf to force the puck home.
The Chiefs complained to the officials after they felt Joe Coulter had been impeded after his stick was grabbed by a Steeldogs’ player, but it fell on deaf ears.
Charnock’s debut goal at 52.57 was cause for celebration for the visitors, but there was little else to cheer on a frustrating night.