WHEELING - Things have deteriorated so rapidly that Wheeling Nailers coach Greg Puhalski handed out a pair of walking papers Sunday morning.
Just hours after defenseman Jimmy Sharrow and forward Chris Cloud were released in what surely was a message, the Nailers provided another lackluster effort in a 4-3 loss to the Elmira Jackals (5-0-0 - 10) at WesBanco Arena that dropped them an astounding eight points out of first place after just six games.
''One-and-5 is not acceptable anywhere,'' Puhalski said in reference to his team's record. ''Personnel is obviously important for our hockey club and we'll make the decisions that are right for our hockey club and get ourself where we need to be.''
Wheeling’s Mitch Ganzak, right, hits Elmira’s Chaz Johnson into the boards Sunday night.
PHOTO BY SHAWN RINE
Wheeling received the quick start it had been searching for when newcomer Pierce Norton scored his first professional goal by putting in the rebound of his own backhand at 3:53 of the first period. The former ninth-round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs spent the last four seasons at Providence College.
''He showed some good jump (though) I thought he ran out of steam toward the end,'' Puhalski said. ''But generally he had a good game for us.''
The Nailers held the 1-0 lead at intermission but it evaporated 4:54 into the second period as the Jackals turned a turnover into Brendan Connolly's first goal of the season. Elmira had several chances right in front of Wheeling goaltender Adam Berkhoel before Connolly pounded it home.
''We're turning the puck over a lot,'' Puhalski said. ''And when you turn the puck over it's like anything - it creates mayhem and you have a tough time establishing your 1-on-1 battles.
''It's something we've got to work through and get back to basics.''
They did that with a power-play goal at 17:14 of the period. Stationed in front, T.J. Fox picked up the rebound of a Lane Caffaro point shot and beat Elmira goaltender Chris Holt to make it a 2-1 Wheeling lead after two. Joey Haddad added the secondary assist.
Turnovers began happening at a frightening pace in the third period, resulting in a couple of garbage goals by the Jackals. On the first, Brandon Svendsen gathered in a blocked shot in the slot and wristed it home for his third at 1:55.
A little more than 6 minutes later, Tyler Donati put home the last of what had to be a half-dozen rebound attempts for his second of the season to give the Jackals their first lead. Twin brother, Justin Donati, had one of the assists.
''Defense comes first, especially when you're 1-5,'' Puhalski said. ''You shouldn't be focused on scoring goals.
''It's developing a solid work ethic, which we need to establish. We haven't done it as of yet and that's why we're where we are.''
Chris Korchinksi made it 4-2 at 19:16 with his second of the season, this one during a 6-on-4 disadvantage that saw Berkhoel pulled and Elmira's Brennan Turner in the box for delay of game.
Wheeling climbed within one with its second power-play goal of the night with 12 seconds left. Haddad wristed in his third from the right circle off a Mitch Ganzak feed.
Though Andrew Lord won the ensuing faceoff, the Nailers were unable to get a shot on goal.
Berkhoel, on a rehab assignment from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, was thought to be heading back north today. Puhalski said that's not the case. ... Wheeling's Ryan Schnell and Elmira's Brett Gallant dropped the gloves 2 seconds into the game. ... Fox has at least one point in five of the team's six games. ... Alternate captains Aaron Clarke (one assist) and Lord (one goal) have combined for two points in six games and a minus-10 rating. ... The Nailers had a second-period goal waived off.
Elmira 0 1 3 - 4
Wheeling1 1 1 - 3
1st Period-1, Wheeling, Norton 1 3:53. Penalties-Gallant Elm (fighting - major), 0:02; Schnell Whl (fighting - major), 0:02; Proulx Elm (interference), 6:47; Svendsen Elm (slashing ), 10:33; Schnell Whl (interference on the goalkeeper), 12:46; Loya Whl (hooking), 15:59.
2nd Period-2, Elmira, Connolly 1 (Cunningham, Gratchev), 4:54. 3, Wheeling, Fox 3 (Caffaro, Haddad), 17:14 (pp). Penalties-Connolly Elm (hooking), 15:47; Lord Whl (high-sticking), 19:48.
3rd Period-4, Elmira, Svendsen 3 (Turner, Johnson), 1:55. 5, Elmira, Donati 2 (Proulx, Donati), 7:18 (pp). 6, Elmira, Korchinski 2 (Gawryletz, Cunningham), 19:16 (sh en). 7, Wheeling, Haddad 3 (Ganzak, Pierro-Zabotel), 19:48 (pp). Penalties-Donati Elm (cross-checking), 3:08; Ganzak Whl (holding), 6:31; Turner Elm (delay of game), 19:07.
Shots on Goal-Elmira 7-11-13-31. Wheeling 9-7-6-22.
Power Play Opportunities-Elmira 1 of 4; Wheeling 2 of 5.
Goalies-Elmira, Holt 2-0-0-0 (22 shots-19 saves). Wheeling, Berkhoel 0-2-0-0 (30 shots-27 saves).
Referees-Joe Sullivan (4); Linesmen-Mike Hamilton (80), Ray King (39).