The Wheeling Nailers, the ‘AA’ affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadians, find themselves sitting in a tough spot in the ECHL playoff race after struggling though the second week of their eight game road trip.
Last Friday night the Nailers traveled to take on the ECHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings, the Toledo Walleye. The Nailers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period with goals from Zack Torquato and Matt Germain, but gave up five unanswered goals and did not find the back of net again, dropping a tough loss, 5-2.
Saturday, the Nailers traveled to face the Buckeye State’s other ECHL team, the Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators affiliate Cincinnati Cyclones. The Nailers matched up with last year’s Ontario Hockey League’s Red Tilson Trophy winner Michael Houser, and struggled to solve the Youngstown, Ohio native as he turned aside a 29 of 30 shots and Wheeling fell, 3-1. Matt Germain had the Nailers lone tally, marking the second time this season he has scored in back to back games.
Sunday was a must win for Wheeling as they headed to Fort Wayne, Indiana to square off with the Anaheim Ducks affiliate Komets. Canadians prospect Peter Delmas out dueled former Edmonton Oiler and current member of the Ducks organization Jeff Deslauriers in a goaltending battle, making 44 saves in a 1-0 win. Paul Crowder tallied the lone goal on a power play with just 3:33 to go in the contest.
Wheeling heads to Elmira on Wednesday night to face the ECHL affiliate of the Ottawa Senators and fierce divisional rival Jackals. The game will conclude Wheeling’s road trip, on which they are 2-5-0 in seven games. Wheeling returns home to face Trenton, the ECHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils, both Friday and Saturday night. The Nailers are home again on Sunday, squaring off with another rival, the Kalamazoo Wings. Kalamazoo is the ECHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks and the team that eliminated the Nailers from the playoffs each of the last two seasons.
The Nailers sit nine points out of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently held by Elmira, and in 11th place. Wheeling does have at least one game at hand on every team they are chasing and have nine home games remaining, but are just 2-7-0-1 in their last 10 games.
The time to turn things around is now for the Nailers. A win in Elmira would bring them within seven points of the final playoff spot, but a loss drops them 11 points out. Wheeling has a 4-1-0-0 record against 13th place Trenton, who comes to town Friday and Saturday giving, Wheeling an opportunity to rack up some much needed standings points. The formula for Wheeling is quite simple at this point, they need to win as it is now or never for the Nailers with time running out.