Nailers Blow Opportunity

JOHNSTOWN, Pa – This one is going to fester a while for the Wheeling Nailers. With an opportunity close to within four points of Atlantic Division-leading Elmira on Saturday night at Cambria County War Memorial Arena, the Nailers (21-13-3 – 45) blew a two-goal lead after one period and went on to fall to the Jackals (26-12-1 – 53) by a 7-4 count. The four-point swing affords Elmira an eight-point cushion.

”We had too many guys with too many mental lapses and they capitalized,” interim Wheeling coach Clark Donatelli said. ”They’re a good team.

”We made a couple of mental lapses and the puck ended up in our net.”

The Nailers jumped to a 2-0 lead after a period and dominated the shot totals, 16-5. But from that point on it was all Jackals in both scoring (7-2) and shots (32-22).

”We’re beating ourselves and that’s hard to take,” Donatelli said. ”Hopefully we can take this and learn from it.”

Elmira got the first two of the second period, the initial one on what looked like a harmless shot from the right boards by Nick Schaus that somehow snuck by Wheeling goaltender Peter Delmas. The Jackals tied it when they caught the Nailers in a line change and got the puck ahead to Jordan Pietus, whose slap shot from the right side went off Delmas’ glove and into the net.

”Delly is a great goalie and he’s going to bounce back,” Donatelli said. ”He had a couple situations there with the ‘D’ tied up and a couple of bad changes.

”It ends up in the back of our net.”

The Nailers seemed to get the momentum back when the puck took a weird bounce past Elmira goaltender Timo Pielmeier and ended up in front of the net. Wheeling captain Paul Crowder had a gift goal, which was his 10th of the season.

But Delmas fell victim to basically the same play three minutes later and Maxime Gratchev put home the first of his two goals to tie it back up.

Wheeling’s Andrew Hotham was guilty of a slashing penalty behind the play near the end of the second period and it came back to haunt the team 22 seconds into the third. Louie Caporusso netted his 12th to give the Jackals a lead they would not relinquish.

Josh Brittain, who entered the game with one point had three on this night, and his second of the season gave Elmira a 5-3 lead. Gratchev scored another and following Chris Barton’s second of the night and team-leading 21st, Pietus finished things off with an empty-netter.

”It’s hard enough to win hockey games and we went out there and beat ourselves (Saturday),” Donatelli said. ”We’ve got 30-some hockey games left.

”We have to put it behind us and we have Reading on Wednesday.”

Olivier Dame-Malka gave the Nailers a 1-0 lead with a slap shot at 10:48 of the first that rifled out of the net as fast as it went in. Referee Ryan Murphy immediately signaled a good goal, however.

The Nailers made it 2-0 as Barton scored his 20th off a rebound.