Panthers' assistant coach Rick Strachan: 'Each game is a four-pointer'
THIRTEEN games stand between Nottingham Panthers and a first Elite League title – and assistant coach Rick Strachan says they will treat every game like a "four-pointer".
And he says the league leaders have no intention of tripping up against Scottish sides Braehead Clan and Fife Flyers in a rare home double-header this weekend.
Panthers returned from the international break to notch a fine 5-1 victory over chief title rivals Belfast Giants in the first leg of the Challenge Cup semi-final at home on Wednesday.
It is clearly a healthy cushion to take to Northern Ireland for the return in 11 days time, and good for confidence.
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But Strachan says the game will be consigned to the past as they look firstly to the visit of sister club Braehead tomorrow (7pm) and then Fife on Sunday (4pm).
"Yes, the guys are playing with confidence, there is no doubt about that," said Strachan.
"After a rusty first period, we enjoyed some success against Belfast but we have to put that game behind us now because we have two huge games this weekend.
"You prepare as best you can, move on and get ready for the next night.
"We've got some tough games coming up but the boys will be prepared for every one of them, both mentally and physically.
"Every game will be like a four-pointer no matter who we play.
"If you want to win the title, Braehead and Fife are two teams you have to perform well against.
"Braehead are a dangerous team with quality hockey players who can put the puck in the net and hurt you real quick.
"The problems they've had is lack of depth but they've added a few new guys and they will get stronger and stronger.
"They are a very dangerous opponent for us."
Strachan – a former coach of the national side – said he was delighted to see Panthers' newly-formed all-Brit line do so well against Belfast, scoring three goals.
Matthew Myers, two-goal David Clarke and man-of-the-match Rob Lachowicz, who scored a fine solo effort, repeated the good form they showed for Great Britain in the Olympics qualifiers in Latvia.
"We stuck them together for the night, and it worked well," said Strachan.
"They got some chemistry going as a line in Riga and they brought it back with them as we all saw."
Head coach Corey Neilson brought in David Beauregard at the expense of Kelsey Wilson but shifted Lachowicz to the Myers-Clarke line.
And he, too, was happy with how the changes worked out.
"I thought that line needed some speed and Lacho could provide it," said Neilson.
"Clarkie and Matthew can sometimes get wheeling and other times not so much.
"But Lacho injected a lot of speed and that turned the three of them into a real threat.
"Lacho has become a real dominant player in this league in the last year and a half.
"He has been excellent for us this year and it seems funny putting one so young (23) on a line to spark it up.
"But generally, whatever line he's been on, it has been a pretty good line."
ON his goal, when he stripped Belfast's last defenceman of the puck in Panthers' zone before racing clear to turn the netminder inside out, Lachowicz said: "The last time I tried that move I was playing in the juniors . . . but at least I remembered!"