WHEELING – The Wheeling Nailers defense has been on an roll lately, making life difficult on opposing goal scorers. These days, that blue line is tormenting goaltenders.
Zach Hansen, Carl Sneep and Cody Wild scored a goal apiece Sunday and Peter Delmas stopped all 20 shots he faced for his first shutout of the season, as Wheeling earned its sixth straight victory on home ice and 11th in their last 12 by virtue of a 5-0 blanking of the South Carolina Stingrays at WesBanco Arena.
”Guys are doing the right thing in front of the net and the forwards are working really hard down low opening stuff up and giving us more time at the point,” said Hansen, who had a goal and an assist for the second night in a row. ”Coach really focuses on us, the defensemen, getting pucks to the net.”
Wheeling (18-14-6 – 42) moved into seventh in the Eastern Conference by gaining all six possible points during the weekend. The Nailers swept Atlantic Division-leading Reading on Friday and Saturday.
South Carolina (18-19-4 – 40) had a six-hour bus ride from Trenton for this 2 p.m. start and it was evident from the outset. Wheeling registered the first 12 shots and held a 1-0 lead on Hansen’s second goal of the season, a rebound wristshot from the left circle 25 seconds in. Wild and Higgins got assists.
”I think they may have come out a little soft,” said Delmas, who improved to 7-3-1. ”They had tough travel and won both of their games with Trenton, so I’m sure in the back of their mind they were coming in here satisfied and this game was just kind of a bonus.
”We took advantage of that.”
The Stingrays registered their first shot with 6:38 left in the period, but the Nailers took a 2-0 lead into the locker room courtesy of Sneep, who is likely to be recalled to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton very soon. Hansen corralled a lose puck at the right boards and fed it to Sneep, who rifled a one-timer past Stingrays goalie Ryan Zapolski for his third of the season. Higgins earned the secondary helper.
South Carolina let a golden opportunity slip away at the beginning of the second period when it was awarded a full two-minute, 5-on-3 power play.
Wheeling made it 3-0 at 14:51 of the third when Wild one-timed his sixth of the season into the back of the net on the power play. Zack Torquato and Keven Veilleux had the assists
”Special teams in general have been very good, but the PK has been really good especially in this homestand,” Nailers coach Clark Donatelli said. ”Guys are taking ownership in that.
”They’re studying some of the other power plays and getting some success at it.”
Right before the end of the second period, Christiaan Minella scored his fifth goal of the season, and first of two on the night, from the low slot, popping the water bottle on top of the net behind Zapolski high in the air. Cam Fergus and Ben Farrer assisted.
Things took a rough-and-tumble turn in the third when Vaughn and Veilleux fought twice. Sneep and Hansen also dropped the gloves for Wheeling.
Minella put the icing on a tough night for Zapolski, an all-star goaltender who came into the game having allowed 31 goals in 19 starts. Minella raced down the right wing and scored with a wristshot.
”We don’t really know who’s going to be in net each night, but our main goal is to get 40 shots and get guys going to the net hard,” Hansen said. ”The biggest thing is just get pucks to the net. We focus on just getting as many shots as we can.”