A Royal Flush
By SHAWN RINE
WHEELING – The Wheeling Nailers wore special alternate jerseys Saturday night, forcing goaltender Scott Darling to forgo his normal No. 30 for No. 1. His game, however, stayed the same.
Darling turned aside 28 shots including four breakaways during the second period and Luke Pither scored his 11th of the season, and fourth game-winner, at 9:55 of the second period as the Nailers earned a two-game sweep of Atlantic Division-leading Reading, 2-1.
The victory was the fifth in a row for Darling, who allowed only Ian O’Connor’s breakaway goal – his 11th of the season – and improved Wheeling’s record to 15-3-3 on home ice. They’ve won five in a row at WesBanco, and 10 of 11.
”I know I’m not going to play every game but I’m just happy to battle whenever I get a chance to play,” Darling said. ” The second period was a battle, but we got out of there with the lead.
”In the first and third I didn’t have much to do. The guys were great with blocking shots and getting pucks out. Just doing all the little things that win a 2-1 hockey game.”
The Nailers (17-13-6 – 40), who moved into second place in the division, welcome a South Carolina team that had to bus from Trenton, for a 2 p.m. skate today.
Wheeling earned two victories against the Royals in large part to its penalty kill. The Nailers held a talented Reading team to 0-for-7 and just one total shot.
”With Benny Farrer back in there and (Adam Payerl) in there, and (Cam Fergus), they’re doing a really good job,” Wheeling coach Clark Donatelli said. ”They’re in the shot lanes and they’re really working hard studying film.
”They take a lot of pride in doing it and I think that’s a big difference.”
After O’Connor had given Reading a 1-0 lead, the Nailers got to work on their power play. Luke Pither slid the puck to Zach Hansen at the right point and he skated in to the top of the circle and wristed his first of the season over the stick shoulder of Royals goaltender Drew MacIntyre, who played a pair of games last season with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.
That’s a fact that wasn’t lost on Darling.
”That was great to play against a guy that played in the NHL and just came from the KHL,” Darling said. ”That’s a little victory for me, plus the two points.
”That was cool.”
Just 52 seconds later Pither took a drop pass from Keven Veilleux, who assisted on both Wheeling goals, and beat MacIntrye from the left dot for the winner.
”Luke’s been playing extremely well for a long time now,” Donatelli said. ”No matter who you play him with, he uses his speed really well.
”He’s got a good shot, he’s good defensively, he’s good on faceoffs and he’s doing some penalty killing.”
There wasn’t much left to do for Darling, who faced nearly 20 shots in the second but just a combined 11 in the first and third.
”I think they had 18 (shots) in the second and a couple good scoring chances,” Darling said. ”But that’s my job, to bail the guys out when there’s a breakdown.
”I was happy to help out.”