WHEELING - The game of hockey is often decided by the play of special teams. Few teams are doing better in that area of the game right now than the Wheeling Nailers.
At least at home.
Since adding Andrew Hotham and Chris Higgins in a pair of trades, the Nailers' power play is 4-for-10 in the last two games. That unit ranks 11th in the league at WesBanco with a 20.4 percent success rate, but the number plummets to next-to-last (7.3 percent) on opposing ice.
''Two pretty good offensive players who can handle the puck and that's a part of it,'' Nailers coach Clark Donatelli said of Hotham and Higgins. ''We took Pauly Crowder off the half way and put him down in front of the net. Pauly is a big guy and is better down there.
''(Peter Lenes) on the other one. The other unit is scoring goals.''
Part of the equation is freedom. The Nailers rarely run an offense while on the power play, save for set faceoff plays.
''We don't restrict them,'' Donatelli said. ''Little things like just getting the pucks to the net, getting their box moving and attacking the seams. There's some talented players out there on the power play.
''It looks like they're having fun and we're working on it every day. We have our really good penalty-killing unit going against our No. 1 power play, so it's really a battle.''
And it's a battle right now for the opposition to score on Wheeling when it has the man advantage. The Nailers are owners of the top-ranked home penalty kill (91.1 percent), having allowed four goals in 45 chances. It's not so good on the road, though, checking in at 68.8 percent).
''On the road we've still got to clean it up a little bit. We're really working on it hard,'' Donatelli said. ''I think guys are taking pride in it. We're making it a competition and we're posting it (in the locker room).
''If you want to get to the next level, you have to be hard to play against and be a real good penalty killer. It's a big part of the game. Guys are in shot lanes, they're blocking pucks, they're talking and communicating out there.''
Wheeling has killed off 12 penalties in a row.
Let's Get Mean
Donatelli said he sometimes sees a lack of aggression on the part of his players. He'd like to see some anger going forward, though that doesn't have to come in the form of fighting.
''Our defense in our zone has to be nastier,'' Donatelli said. ''Slash someone, give it to somebody and get on their skill guys. That's part of development too.
''How you get better is to play with a little mean streak, a nastiness away from the puck. It's away from the puck, letting a guy know you're going to be in his face all night and that it's not going to be easy.
''We have to incorporate that.''
Saturday night when the Fort Wayne Komets come to WesBanco Arena it is ski cap night. The first 2,500 fans into the building will receive a free ski cap with the Nailers emblem on it. Sunday against Evansville is Family 4-Pack night, and you can skate with the team following the game.
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net