One thing this EIHL season has taught us…nothing is certain. After another week of twist and turns, the title picture and playoff races are both no clearer, with all manner of permutations still possible at both the top and bottom of the table. Before we take a look at the current state of play-a quick explanation of the abbreviations:
GP – Total games played
P – Current points total
GR – Games Remaining.
PtsB – Points Behind Leader
GTE – Games To Elimination – the number of games that a team can lose before it is mathematically unable to overtake either the leader (title race) or team in 8th (playoff race)
WTQ – Wins To Qualification – number of wins required to guarantee either a team cannot be overtaken, either at the top of the table (title race) or finish lower than 8th place (PO race).
Done that? Good. Let’s look at the current state of play in the EIHL, shall we?
1. BRAEHEAD. Games Played 44, Pts 63. Games Remaining 8. Max Pts Total, 79
2. SHEFFIELD: GP 43, Pts 60. GR 9, Max Pts 78
3. CARDIFF: GP 44 Pts 60, GR 8, Max Pts 76
4, NOTTINGHAM: GP 43, Pts 54, GR 9, Max Pts 72
5. BELFAST: GP 45, Pts 53, GR 7, Max Pts 67
6. FIFE: GP 45, Pts 42, GR 7, Max Pts 56
7. COVENTRY GP 45, Pts 42, GR 7, Max Pts 56
8. HULL GP 40, Pts 39, GR 12, Max Pts 63
9. EDINBURGH: GP 43 Pts 39, GR 9, Max Pts 57
10. DUNDEE: GP 44, Pts 25, GR 8, Max Pts 41
Thanks to Coventry’s four point weekend against Sheffield and Nottingham and Cardiff’s continuing form to name but two, there’s been some big swings this week…
CARDIFF/BRAEHEAD: The weekend couldn’t have gone better for both these teams in the title race. With both grabbing a four-point weekend and all three other teams in the title race losing at least once, these two made the most gain…the Devils opening up a six-point gap in third and overhauling the gap on Sheffield above them, while Braehead maintain their three-point advantage at the top.
COVENTRY: Another four-point weekend, this time v Sheffield and Nottingham, has caused them to leapfrog up to seventh in the table and open up a three point gap on the chasing teams. With three games against Hull and one against Edinburgh still to come, the Midlanders can seal their playoff place before the final day with wins in three out of four of those games irrespective of their Erhardt results.
EDINBURGH: Those games in hand are looking more and more crucial, but VITAL wins in Belfast and against PO rivals Hull could be crucial come the end of the season.
BELFAST: This weekend saw the Giants lose their grip on the Monteith Bowl. While they can still mathematically win it, a gap of ten points means that they can effectively only lose one more game while the teams above them have to lose all theirs. Sorry, Giants. There’ll be a new champion this year.
NOTTINGHAM: A loss to Coventry now means they’re six points back from third place-it’s points they couldn’t afford to drop. Friday’s game against Braehead may be their last chance to remain in the title race-lose that and, like Belfast, the eight-point gap may be far too much to overcome.
HULL: Those games in hand are dropping all the time and other teams around them are winning. The Stingrays are still in with a decent chance of PO qualification, but those three games against Coventry could make or break their PO chances.
So-with all that assessed, how does it affect the races in the EIHL?
THE TITLE RACE
1. BRAEHEAD: Pts 63. Games Remaining 8, QUALIFIED FOR POs
2. SHEFFIELD: Pts 60, GR 9, Pts Behind 3, GTE 8, QUALIFIED FOR PO’s
3. CARDIFF: Pts 60, GR 8, PtsB 3, GTE 8, QUALIFIED FOR PO’s
4. NOTTINGHAM: Pts 54, GR 9, PtsB 9, GTE 4, WTQ 2
5. BELFAST: Pts 52, GR7, PtsB 11, GTE 2, WTQ 3
THE PO RACE
6. FIFE: Pts 42, GR 7, WTQ 5
7. COVENTRY: Pts 42, GR 7, WTQ 5
8. HULL: Pts 39, GR 12, WTQ 11
9. EDINBURGH: Pts 39, GR 9. GTE 9
10. DUNDEE: Pts 25, GR 8, GTE 1
Compare this to last week and we can see that Fife and Coventry have both gained a little extra breathing space in terms of cames they can “afford” to lose, while Hull have lost their space by dropping a game. At the top, Cardiff have sealed their playoff spot this week and also improved their title chances slightly, while Nottingham and Belfast are all but out of the race except in a mathematical, theoretical sense. Meanwhile the axe is hanging over Dundee…drop just one more point this weekend and they officially become the first team this season eliminated from the playoff race.
Braehead v Nottingham this weekend could also go a big way to putting the Panthers title hopes to bed if the Clan win, while Sheffield continue to fight on despite missing all three of their regular goalies through injury at the moment-can they overcome the injury bug?
Edinburgh use one of their “games in hand” on Coventry this Saturday in Fife while Hull use two as they play three times this weekend to Blaze’s one (Coventry will no doubt be watching all these results very closely indeed)-in a weekend that could see potentially the most dramatic shift in the EIHL picture yet.
Before that, though, there’s the little matter of the second Challenge Cup semi final to conclude. Last night saw one of the stories of the season as Sheffield overhauled a two-goal deficit from their first leg with Nottingham to knock the Cup holders out-and they did it all with Nottingham-born-and-bred youngster Sam Gospel in net as emergency cover for the three injured Steelers goalies.
That will give heart to Coventry tonight, who travel to Cardiff having to win by at least three goals in the BBT-a feat that only one team has managed all season, and that only once. To compound the size of the task facing them, the Blaze hav only won once by a multiple-goal margin at all, home or away since Chuck Weber took over-that was Braehead in the CC Quarter Final. Their away record v Erhardt teams this season, incidentally….3-13.
Meanwhile, the Devils are on a roll-and with Andrew Lord already saying “this is the biggest game he’s been involved in in Cardiff” there’s no question they’re up for the fight. The Blaze are travelling in hope, but this is a hell of a task for them that dwarfs even that comeback in the quarter-finals.