By Matthew Burgess
The Cardiff Devils are hoping favourable results across the Elite League this weekend can deliver them an early Christmas present and boost their title prospects.
The Devils have the ideal opportunity to add to their points total with a home double-header against the Dundee Stars and Glasgow Clan over successive evenings.
Yet, Cardiff will also be keeping an eye on results from across the rest of the league, as they look to strengthen their hopes of mounting a challenge for the Elite League title in the New Year.
The Guildford Flames are the surprise runaway leaders approaching the festive period – some 11 points clear of the fourth-placed Devils.
They have currently played a game more than the Devils but that advantage is about to be flipped.
The Flames are also juggling Challenge Cup commitments this weekend.
They will face second-placed Coventry Blaze in the Cup, prior to hosting Manchester Storm in the league on Sunday.
Below them, third-placed Sheffield and Cardiff, below them, will have their attentions fixed firmly on the league, and are presented with the ideal opportunity to turn up the pressure on league leaders.
Dundee and Glasgow occupy the last-two places in the 10-team Elite League and with the advantage of not having to travel, the Devils will need to demonstrate their ruthless streak to bank the maximum four points at the expense of their Scottish opponents.
And were Manchester able to spring a shock and deny Guildford a 10th-straight league win on Sunday, the Flames’ lead over the Devils would be reduced to seven points with just over half of the season still to be played.
Cardiff however, have struggled to live up to their usual heavyweight billing this season. And many are yet to be convinced that the Devils are bona fide contenders to lift the Elite League title.
Inconsistency and more recently, a growing list of injuries, have prevented the Devils from forging the sort of extended sequence of results that would instil a fear into their rivals.
The Devils have a roster of players who can step up and compete with anyone on their day, but they’ve also frequently shown they can frequently run into trouble as highlighted by their 10-4 aggregate defeat to the Sheffield Steelers in the Challenge Cup.
Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat to Sheffield means the team have now shipped no less than 19 goals in their four outings.
The team have been short-benched and the extended absence of influential centreman Jake Coughler is evidently being felt, but Todd Kelman has already communicated that there aren’t any new signings forthcoming.
A new face on the roster could go some way to galvanising the team and provide reassurance to those worried about the team’s title credentials.
But Kelman insists there is nobody within their budget on the mid-season free agent market that would improve the roster.
The answers to improving their season must therefore lie within.
The Devils must fix their defensive shortcomings and address their inconsistency if they want to be in with a realistic chance of competing for the silverware in the latter stages of the season.
Stringing together wins this weekend can help the side skate into 2023 with renewed vigour.
But only time will tell whether Brodie Dupont and his team are to achieve their pre-season objectives.
Coventry at Guildford (Cup)
Belfast at Manchester
Dundee at Cardiff
Nottingham at Fife
Sheffield at Glasgow
Belfast at Coventry
Fife at Nottingham
Glasgow at Cardiff
Manchester at Guildford
Sheffield at Dundee
Featured image courtesy of James Assinder