Jackals Edge Nailers

WHEELING – The Wheeling Nailers were hoping Elmira goaltender Maxime Clermont would drop the ball – in this case puck – on New Year’s Eve at WesBanco Arena. He obliged, but the Nailers couldn’t win enough battles to make him pay.

Clermont stopped 43 shots and Jack Downing tallied a pair of goals as the Jackals (15-14-3 – 33) climbed ahead of the Nailers (13-12-6 – 31) into second place in the Atlantic Division with a 3-2 victory Monday night. The loss snapped a six-game home winning streak for Wheeling, which has failed to get a point in its last two after doing so in eight straight.

”We had a lot of chances, but we shouldn’t have been in that position anyway,” Nailers coach Clark Donatelli said.

”We should have been tied if not winning going into the third, but it is what it is.”

Elmira jumped to a 1-0 lead 9:35 in as Downing grabbed a Louie Caporusso rebound on the opposite side of the goal and pounded the puck past losing goaltender Peter Delmas (34 saves) for his 11th goal of the season.

Less than two minutes later Wheeling tied it as Carl Sneep’s spinning pass looked to have missed its intended target, but landed on the stick of Luke Pither. Pither wasted little time burying his 10th into the upper portion of the Jackals net.

”He’s a very talented player,” Donatelli said of Pither, who has 22 points (10g, 12a) in 30 games for the team. ”We’re trying to get him to play a full 60 minutes at all times and not take any shifts off.

”It’s his first time playing a serious amount of minutes, coming off an 8-in-11 and coming back and doing a 4-in-5.”

The Nailers took their first and only lead 6:32 in the second with a power-play goal – their 13th in their last 14 games. Andrew Hotham beat former teammate Kyle Bushee to Paul Crowder’s rebound and shoved it past Clermont for his sixth. Pither had the other helper.

Not long after, Elmira struck for the equalizer as a turnover in the slot led to Jordan Pietrus’ sixth of the season. Nearly 10 minutes later the Jackals completed the scoring as Downing, stationed right in front, banged his 12th and second of the night past Delmas for his second game-winner of the season, this one on the power play.

”The one power-play goal was a couple mental breakdowns,” Donatelli said. ”Their goals were too easy.

”Guys standing there getting a whack like that. I don’t think our guys got one whack like that, and they got a couple.”

No doubt the Nailers are feeling the effects of a tough stretch to close out 2012, but Donatelli said it can’t and won’t be used as a crutch.

”Guys are feeling it, but so are other teams in this league,” he said. ”We’ve got to get two points, especially two here at home.

”They were finishing their checks and they were out-battling us for long stretches. I told our guys ‘they’re in the last game of a seven-day roadtrip and are just as tired if not more than you guys.’ ”