WHEELING - A once fearsome Wheeling Nailers penalty kill had slipped all the way to 16th in the 22-team ECHL after allowing three power-play goals in a loss Saturday night in Cincinnati. Eager to find the source of that early season magic, the Nailers had a productive video session before the two teams met again Sunday at WesBanco Arena.
''We a couple mental breakdowns, but my hat's off to (the Cyclones), the ran a couple plays that we hadn't seen and we got a little confused,'' Nailers coach Clark Donatelli said. ''They came out and on their first power play (Sunday) and they tried to run the same play and we shut them down.
''It's good that guys are learning.''
Wheeling’s Barry Goers retrieves a puck in front of Cincinnati’s Paul Crowder during action of their game Sunday at WesBanco Arena.
Making his first start in more than two months, Peter Mannino stopped 22 of 23 shots, the PK was a perfect 3-for-3 and Cody Sylvester netted his fifth goal in six games since returning from the American Hockey League as Wheeling (19-16-6 - 44) scored a 3-1 victory against Cincinnati (24-12-2 - 50).
It was a gutty performance for a Nailers club that finished up a three-games-in-three-cities weekend by gaining four of a possible six points to move into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, as well as three points behind Atlantic Division-leading Reading.
''That's a lot of travel and it's hard on your body,'' Sylvester said. ''I thought the guys came out and battled hard for 60 minutes.
''It's a big step when you can put a couple wins together in a 3-in-3 like this.
''I think we could clean up a few errors around the blueline and limit the turnovers, but in the end we got a big win out of it.''
The Nailers got on the board first as forward Jacob Lagace found an opening and deposited his sixth goal of the season past hard-luck losing goaltender Rob Madore, who stopped 37 of 39 shots. Sylvester and Myles Harvey had assists on the goal that came at the 6:02 mark of the initial 20 minutes.
''I knew the 'D' was coming hard at me so I knew if I pulled up I was going to have a good opportunity,'' said Lagace, who has three goals in 14 games with Wheeling after coming over in a trade with Orlando. ''A quick shot 5-hole is hard to stop, especially if you don't take the time to stop.
''I didn't even look but I knew the 5-hole was there and I shot it and ended up beating him.''
Still, Mannino had to keep the Cyclones at bay while his teammates were finding their legs. He made a nice, sliding save on Phil Bushbacher with 12:54 left.
However, not long after, Josh Shalla got loose in the slot and wristed home his sixth of the season and third in the last two games.
''We won the face-off and there was a quick turnover,'' Mannino said. ''We were fronting and there were a couple guys in front of me and he got it through ... it had eyes.
''I was (ticked). We had the lead and you never want to give it up.''
No problem, because that's all he surrendered.
Mannino turned aside Jeremie Malouin from point-blank range late in the first, then with 11:44 left in the second, made a quick reactionary play to stop a Trevor Lewis deflection out of mid-air.
''Mannino played really well and made some great saves when he had to in his first game,'' Donatelli said. ''It was great for him to get in here and get his feet wet.''
The game remained tied at 1-1 until 6:20 of the third when Sylvester took a pass from Lagace, broke in down the left wing and backhanded the puck into the top of the net for his 11th goal of the season and fifth game-winner. That second number not only leads Wheeling this season, but is the top mark in the league among rookies.
''First of all it was a good pass by Lagace, but no, I didn't know (Madore) was going to go down,'' Sylvester said. ''I just tried to get it on net and I think it was over his shoulder.''
Max MacKay added an empty-netter with less than two minutes remaining for his ninth goal of the season to give Wheeling a victory in its first of four home games this week. The Nailers welcome Fort Wayne on Wednesday and Kalamazoo on Friday and Saturday nights.
''The top teams in this league have good home records and we have to take advantage of that,'' Mannino said. ''Just looking at the standings since I've gotten here, we've got to win, and win a lot of games, to make a push.
''I thought we controlled the game for the most part and obviously took care of their power play. That's the game.''
Wheeling forward Chaz Johnson and Cincinnati captain David MacDonald did not play after being suspended indefinitely for their actions in Saturday night's game in Cincinnati. A decision is expected from the league no later than this afternoon. ... Nailers captain Dustin Stevenson also did not play because of a lower-body injury. He was on crutches late Saturday on the trip home, but was walking by Sunday.
Cincinnati1 0 0 - 1
Wheeling1 0 2 - 3
1st Period-1, Wheeling, Lagace 6 (Sylvester, Goers), 6:02. 2, Cincinnati, Shalla 6 (Luciani, Crowder), 8:12. Penalties-Gill Whl (tripping), 8:31; Bakker Whl (hooking), 14:30.
2nd Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Luciani Cin (interference), 0:23; McGrath Whl (holding), 17:58.
3rd Period-3, Wheeling, Sylvester 11 (Lagace), 6:20. 4, Wheeling, MacKay 9 18:45 (EN). Penalties-Almeida Cin (high-sticking), 9:28.
Shots on Goal-Cincinnati 11-7-5-23. Wheeling 14-13-13-40.
Power-Play Opportunities-Cincinnati 0-3; Wheeling 0-2.
Goalies-Cincinnati, Madore 11-5-0-0 (39 shots-37 saves). Wheeling, Mannino 1-0-0-0 (23 shots-22 saves).
Referee-Frederic Leblanc (25); Linesmen-Shaun Morgan (71), Justin Eckman (72).