Corey Neilson looks forward to tonight's Panthers clash with Coventry
THE word 'revenge' never even entered Corey Neilson's head when he started planning for Nottingham Panthers' visit of Coventry Blaze to the National Ice Centre tonight (7.30pm).
When the teams last met, four games ago in Coventry, Panthers found themselves on the wrong end of the penalty count and lost 5-2 – their heaviest defeat in what is becoming a very solid season.
But Panthers coach Neilson insists the only emphasis to his players will be telling them to stick to their game plan that has seen them go second in the Elite League, with a game in hand on leaders Belfast.
"We just have to get out there and do what we have been doing to get the job done," he said.
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"It will be tough. It's always tough against Coventry, but there will be no thoughts of revenge.
"It will be just about winning the personal battles and initiating contact and not reacting to whatever they do.
"The guys were down after that game in Coventry.
"We took penalties and the refereeing didn't really help us but we have to be smarter.
"Just like everyone else, officials have good nights and bad nights, but we can't think about that at all. It's all about how we play, nothing else."
After that defeat in Coventry, Panthers bounced back to shut-out conference rivals Cardiff 5-0 then followed up with a 3-2 penalty-shots win in Belfast before Sunday's emphatic 5-1 victory in Dundee.
In their last 11 games, they have lost just twice – to Coventry and Sheffield, in overtime – scoring a massive 51 goals in the process.
"The guys are playing well," said Neilson. "In Belfast we weren't as dominant as we were against Cardiff which is understandable given they are on another level as a team.
"But we carried the play to them a lot of the time and were the better of the two teams. We played really well.
"In Dundee it was just a matter of time and staying patient until the goals started coming.
"The thing is the forwards are working really hard.
"We have ten forwards now who could play on any first line of any team in the league.
"Take Bruce Graham for instance. He was frustrated about not being on one of the top three lines.
"But now he understands the role that maybe Marc Levers had a couple of seasons ago – being a tenth forward, playing everywhere.
"He ends up rotating through the lines and probably has more ice time than anybody playing left wing, centre, right wing and playing some great minutes for me.
"He is our third leading scorer right now. I knew he'd come round in a matter of time and now he's showing some good stuff right now.
"It's a pretty strong group and we are in that position now where we are rolling five defencemen that are playing relatively passive.
"But the forwards are doing all the damage, playing really strongly at both ends of the ice and that is a good combination right now.
"But it's not too strict as our defence are always allowed to jump into the rush, especially on breakouts."
However, Neilson must feel a slight frustration that his knee injury, followed by the team's subsequent success, has kept him off the playing roster.
But he must take a lot of gratification as a coach when the team is doing well, after his plans have paid off.
"It's a lot to do with psychology," he said.
"When you've beaten the so-called better teams then the guys know they are capable and confidence follows.
"They've won a couple of big games, dominated some good teams and have been successful by following the game plan.
"They go into the next one with confidence, knowing what they are doing will bring results and personal satisfaction."
NOTTINGHAM Panthers' home leg of the Challenge Cup quarter-final will be at the NIC on Wednesday, January 30, against opposition yet to be decided.
The cup holders could yet finish in any of the top three places in their group.
If Panthers finish third they will play Braehead, who finished second in their group, if second they play Fife and if first they play Dundee.
If they do play Braehead, the first leg will be in Glasgow the previous night, Tuesday, January 29, which is the only night Clan have available.
There are now fewer than 200 tickets left for the main bowl for Panthers' Boxing Day clash with Sheffield Steelers at the NIC.