WHEELING - The Wheeling Nailers looked to get out of a slump Saturday night when they faced the Toledo Walleye at WesBanco Arena, but were not able to do so as the Walleye handed them a 5-3 defeat in front of a crowd of 3,504.
Wheeling (15-13-1-5 - 36) played better than it has in recent losses, but was never able to recover from a sequence early in the second period where it surrendered a pair of 5-on-3 goals to Toledo (11-18-3-0-25).
"As a group we're just not doing what it takes to win" Nailers forward Jack MacLellan said. "I feel like every game we dig ourselves a hole we can't get out of and we've got to figure out how to change that."
Photo by Joe Lovell
Wheeling’s Drew Schiestel (18) battles in the corner with Toledo’s Alden Hirschfield during action of their Eastern Conference matchup Saturday night at WesBanco Arena.
The Nailers, who at one point held an eight-point lead in the Atlantic Division, now trail Reading by one point and the Royals hold three games in hand. On top of that, Wheeling dropped to ninth in the Eastern Conference, one spot out of the playoff race.
"We've got to play desperate and find a way to win because right now we're letting too many points slip away and before we know it we'll be on the outside looking in" MacLellan, not yet knowing the results of out-of-town games said.
Toledo's Daniel Koger redirected a Stephon Thorne point shot past the glove of Nailers starter Mike Condon 5:27 in, putting the Walleye on the board first. C.J. Chartrain also picked up an assist on the goal, Koger's second of the season.
After failing to convert on a power-play chance halfway through the period, Wheeling picked up some momentum and evened the score when Sahir Gill one-timed a Tyler Fernandez feed from the bottom of the right circle past Toledo's Hannu Toivonen with 5:45 remaining. Jacob Lagace also picked up a helper on Gill's eighth of the season, and the teams went to the locker rooms in a 1-1 tie.
The effort was probably Wheeling's best first period in recent memory, but it did not last as it got into serious penalty trouble in the middle period. Consecutive calls on Jake Arishenko, MacLellan, and Shane Bakker gave Toledo two 5-on-3 opportunites, and it cashed in on both.
Koger put home a rebound in tight for his second of the game and third of the season with assists from Joe Sova and Max Nicastro to give the Walleye the lead at 5:14, then ex-Nailer Aaron Clark burried a cross-ice feed from Alden Hirschfeld off a turnover to make it 3-1 just 1:06 later. Koger picked up his third point of the game with an assist on Clarke's fifth of the seson.
Louis-Marc Aubry tacked on an even-strength goal 2:42 later with a lone assist from Hirschfeld, putting Wheeling in a 4-1 hole. Rookie Patrick McGrath dropped the gloves with Emmerson Clark a little more than a minute later in a long fight with a lot of punches that ended in a draw, hoping to light a spark under his team.
Wheeling trailed 4-1 after two, but did not go away easily in the third. The Nailers came out with the period's first six shots on net, and cut the deficit to two when Lagace picked up his second goal in as many contests, centering a feed off Toivonen and in while working on a power play with 8:12 remaining. Chaz Johnson and Mike Ratchuk picked up the assists on Lagace's fourth of the season.
MacLellan cashed in for his eighth of the year to make things interesting with 2:25 to play, putting home a back-door feed on a shorthanded 2-on-1 rush with Penguins prospect Nick D'Agostino, but that was as close as Wheeling got. Hirschfeld added an empty netter with 12 seconds to play, sealing a victory.
"Overall I think that was probably the best game we've played in a while and we still came up short. We've got to get better in certain areas," Nailers coach Clark Donatlelli said. "We didn't get into this in one day, we're not going to get out of it it one day."
The Nailers head to Toledo today to start a season-high, six-game road trip, and are away from WesBanco Arena ice until Jan. 26.
Toledo1 3 1 - 5
Wheeling1 0 2 - 3
1st Period-1, Toledo, Koger 2 (Thorne, Chartrain), 5:27. 2, Wheeling, Gill 8 (Lagace, Fernandez), 14:15. Penalties-Clarke Tol (hooking), 10:21; Areshenko Whl (holding), 19:41.
2nd Period-3, Toledo, Koger 3 (Sova, Nicastro), 5:14 (PP). 4, Toledo, Clarke 5 (Hirschfeld, Koger), 6:20 (PP). 5, Toledo, Aubry 6 (Hirschfeld), 9:02. Penalties-Areshenko Whl (delay of game), 3:16; MacLellan Whl (slashing ), 4:39; Bakker Whl (boarding), 6:00; Chartrain Tol (cross-checking), 9:35; Clark Tol (fighting - major), 11:36; McGrath Whl (fighting - major), 11:36; Johnson Whl (elbowing), 14:28; Nedomlel Tol (tripping), 17:07; Novak Tol (double - roughing), 19:38; Lagace Whl (double - roughing), 19:38.
3rd Period-6, Wheeling, Lagace 4 (Johnson, Ratchuk), 11:48 (PP). 7, Wheeling, MacLellan 8 (D'Agostino), 17:35 (SH). 8, Toledo, Hirschfeld 5 (Aubry, Lynch), 19:48 (EN). Penalties-Aubry Tol (tripping), 1:18; Thorne Tol (tripping), 10:22; Ratchuk Whl (hooking), 17:03.
Shots on Goal-Toledo 13-15-4-32. Wheeling 12-5-17-34.
Power Play Opportunities-Toledo 2-6; Wheeling 1-5.
Goalies-Toledo, Toivonen 6-8-0-0 (34 shots-31 saves). Wheeling, Condon 10-6-0-4 (31 shots-27 saves).
Referee-Chris Pitoscia (3); Linesmen-Francois Dussureault (62), Patrick Richardson (82).