Preview: MK Lightning v Nottingham Panthers (2nd March)
By Paul Brookman
Nottingham Panthers visit Planet Ice for the final time this season on Saturday – desperate to turn around a poor run of form which has seen them win only twice in seven league outings since they last met Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning at the beginning of February.
Panthers edged out Lightning 2-1 in that game at the Motorpoint Arena. Since then their only wins have been against Belfast Giants and, last Saturday against Glasgow Clan. The victory over the Scots was especially important is it keeps them in touch with Clan in the battle for third place in the table.
Glasgow ended the weekend three points ahead of Panthers who had played two games more.
A fourth place finish would be satisfactory for many teams in the tough Elite League but for Panthers who have a history of being there or thereabouts when the honours are handed out it will not be sufficient.
Former MK Kings coach Rick Strachan took over the reins from Rich Chernomaz in mid-January after a series of disappointing results but little has changed since. That is not to say that Saturday’s game will be easy for Lightning as Nottingham are always tough nuts to crack.
Panthers’ problem this year has been scoring enough goals to win games – their total of 159 is the lowest by far of the top four sides while defensively they have conceded 12 more goals than Glasgow and 41 more than leaders Belfast.
The fact that top scorer Alexander Guptil’s tally of 53 points – 32 goals and 21 assists is only enough to rank 13th in the Elite League leaders chart speaks volumes. Lightning’s Tim Wallace with 45 points for 28th spot rates more highly than the next Panthers player, Justin Kovacs, in 35th with 41 points.
Number one netminder, Michael Garnett, has a goals against average of 2.89 per game for a saves percentage of just over 90 – that puts him fourth in the rankings.
Lightning will be going into the match off the back of trip to Fife Flyers on Friday, hoping not to pick up any more injuries against a Panthers roster that far outnumbers them at 24 – although they are not permitted to dress all for the game.
Saturday’s game gets under way at the usual time of 7pm. Book your tickets at mk-lightning.co.uk/tickets. Alternatively buy your tickets on the door or in advance. Call us on 01908 540020.