WHEELING - Clark Donatelli sat his team down Tuesday morning prior to practice and passed along a simple message. If Wheeling's effort doesn't pick up, there will be guys looking for new jobs.
The Nailers (21-18-9 - 51) embark on a seven-game roadtrip beginning on Thursday in Greenville, and it was clear from the coach's comments post practice that things need to pick up following back-to-back shutout losses - 3-0 at home to Reading and 5-0 at Elmira.
''Everyone in the room is very aware that they didn't push back,'' Donatelli said of the Elmira game. ''I'm not too happy with it and I know the captains aren't happy with it.
''Our compete level has got to be there and if guys don't want to do it, we'll find people who can.
''Some guys have to elevate their compete level and we've got to go back at it.
''If not, don't be complacent. There's going to be somebody that wants to take their job. I don't want to threaten anybody, but that's just the way it is.''
Donatelli said it would be easy to point a finger at the revamped defensive corp, but that's not where the problem lies.
''That's a good excuse and that's come up a little bit amongst the team, but I'm going to nip that in the bud,'' he said. ''Our forwards as a group are not finishing their checks, we're not having any O-zone time and we're not putting shots to the net cause they're not hustling.
''You don't go six periods without a goal because it's the defensemen. It's just an excuse.''
The coach mentioned team toughness and push back a number of times Tuesday. He's not satisfied with how the Nailers are responding when teams start banging them around, particularly on the road.
''I told the guys in the meeting that collectively we've got to be a little tougher and we've got to stand up for each other,'' Donatelli said.
''Playing tough is taking a hit to make a play. It's going to the net and battling. It's finishing all our checks, being hard to play against and being in guys' faces.
''You play like that and there's going to be altercations, there's going to be fights because you're (ticking) people off. Hey, that's fine. That's part of the game.''
Wheeling finds itself on a southern tour this week with games Thursday and Monday at Greenville, sandwiched around a trip to Gwinnett on Friday night. Not exactly the teams the Nailers would like to be seeing as they struggles to find a midseason identity.
''They're at the top of the conference but we've had success against both of those teams when we work,'' Donatelli said. ''Nothing new, nothing different.
''But we've got to take care of business collectively.
''We've got to work as a group and limit the mental breakdowns.''
If help in the toughness department is needed, the Nailers will get a couple guys back Thursday that have no problems filling that role. Defensemen Peter Merth and Adam Ross, who leads Wheeling in fighting majors with five, were full participants in practice and are good to go against the Road Warriors.
''Merth and Ross had a good practice and did some good battle drills,'' Donatelli said. ''It's good to see them back in the lineup and they both are ready to go.
''They're going to help our backend and they're going to help our leadership. They'll bring some toughness.''
Fellow blue liner Zach Hansen was absent from practice. He was schedule to have X-rays for an upper-body injury. Hansen is also suffering from a charlie horse.
Donatelli said the Nailers, who are 10th in the Eastern Conference but just seven points out of fifth, are treating this seven-game trip - stops in Toledo, Cincinnati, Fort Wayne and Elmira are also upcoming - like a playoff series.
''You've got to win four games,'' he said. ''It's a little early, (but) we're going to take it game-by-game.''
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net