A spirited fightback proved to be fruitless as Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning went down 5-2 to fellow Elite League expansion team, Guildford Flames, at MK Arena on Saturday.
Short-benched Lightning were again missing Tommy Mele, Kyle Essery and Miika Wiikman, all injured, as well the suspended Denny Kearney and the departed Matt Nickerson.
The hosts started the game with players double shifting on ever changing forward lines before James Griffin switched from defence to offence to allow the lines to remain consistent. That came at the cost of reducing the number of defencemen to four.
By the time Lightning began to make any impression they were already four goals behind, having conceded three without reply in the opening period and falling further in arrears to an early second session powerplay strike.
From that moment on any kind of response was, in reality, never going to be enough to pull Lightning out of the Flames fire.
Guildford capitalised after Christian Isackson was penalised for tripping in the seventh minute. Under pressure the hosts’ netminder Henry Pacl was drawn out of position by Jesse Craige when John Dunbar was able to tap into what was effectively an empty net at 8mins 35secs.
The visitors doubled their advantage on 12mins 49secs when Rhett Rachinski’s shot was blocked, only for Geoff Walker to snap up the rebound and tuck it away.
There was further misery for Lightning before the period end as Ian Watters blasted the puck wide of target to rebound off the boards behind the goal to the waiting Dunbar who quickly exposed a gap between Pacl and his post at 18mins 35secs.
If Lightning had a plan to hit back in the middle period it was soon dealt another blow with Evan Stoflet consigned to the sin bin just 43 seconds after the restart.
Flames powerplay lines did their job to extend the lead to four goals when Brennan Yadlowski was the provider for Rachinski to register from close range after 21mins 34secs.
As the period went on, Lightning started to have an impact – Isackson shot wide under pressure from Flames, before Lewis Hook tried a shot which was too weak to beat netminder Chris Carrozzi.
At the other end of the ice Ben Davies produced an equally easy shot for Pacl to save, ahead of Walker’s effort which was blocked by the Czech stopper.
Carrozzi was beaten for the first time when Paul Phillips supplied Kevin King to shoot in from the right on 28mins 20secs. There were plenty of chances for both sides in the following minutes – King went close a minute or so after the goal while Hook tested the goalie a couple of minutes later.
Francis Verreault-Paul was sent away by Phillips but couldn’t find the end product and Griffin saw his shot blocked three minutes from the buzzer.
Flames restored their four goal lead while Lightning were on a powerplay resulting from Davies’ tripping penalty on Phillips.
Kruise Reddick intercepted a Lightning play to race away to beat Pacl seven seconds from the interval, giving Flames a formidable 5-1 lead.
Peter Russell’s outfit gave home fans some vaguely brief hope 62seconds after the restart as Hook made the pass for Carl Hudson to break clear, dummying the keeper before shooting high into the goal to make it 5-2.
That’s the way it remained to the final buzzer – Lightning failing to impress on a powerplay after Craige was sin binned for hooking and Flames unable to add to their total while with a man advantage as Alex Forbes was penalised for holding and later, Guillaume Doucet, served time for a high stick.
The result means that Lightning’s ambitions of earning a play-off spot continued to slip away.
Man of the match: Carl Hudson.
By Paul Brookman