WHEELING - Chris Barton had just exited a players-only meeting when he sat down in the interview room Wednesday night. He spoke softly and his message was clear.
''It's embarrassing,'' Barton said.
In arguably their biggest game of the season, the Wheeling Nailers mustered all of 15 shots. Barton said nobody outside of goaltender Peter Delmas bothered to show up.
Wheeling Nailers defenseman Adam Ross (26) and goalie Peter Delmas (29) try to clear a loose puck.
The result was a 2-1 shootout loss to the Elmira Jackals at WesBanco Arena. The Nailers (25-23-11 - 61) find themselves eight points back of idle South Carolina with 13 games to play in the fight for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
''There's not much to say ... there was no effort,'' Barton opened. ''It starts with myself.
''I'm a leader in this locker room and I didn't have the best effort, either. I don't know what it is, but we've got 13 games left and we can't lay anymore eggs.''
Elmira0 1 0 0 - 2
Wheeling1 0 0 0 - 1
1st Period-1, Wheeling, Barton 17 (MacKay), 8:26. Penalties-Crowder Whl (holding), 8:36; Rowe Elm (tripping), 9:51.
2nd Period-2, Elmira, Harvey 11 (Cooper, Pietrus), 9:32. Penalties-Merth Whl (high-sticking), 4:12; Harvey Elm (closing hand on puck), 16:48.
3rd Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Orlando Whl (high-sticking - double), 3:25; Bellamy Elm (double - roughing), 6:59; McNeill Whl (double - roughing), 6:59.
OT Period- No Scoring.Penalties-No Penalties
Shootout - Elmira 1 (Bushee NG, Daniels NG, Carter G, Pietrus NG, Southorn NG), Wheeling 0 (Barton NG, Veilleux NG, Zurevinski NG, MacKay NG, Higgins NG).
Shots on Goal-Elmira 13-14-8-3-1-39. Wheeling 6-3-5-1-0-15.
Power-Play Opportunities-Elmira 0-4; Wheeling 0-2.
Goalies-Elmira, Clermont 16-10-3-2 (15 shots-14 saves). Wheeling, Delmas 13-8-0-4 (38 shots-37 saves).
Referee-Frederic Leblanc (25); Linesmen-Justin Eckman (72), Zach Roberts (84).
The stretch drive continues Friday night in Trenton and continues Saturday at Atlantic Division-leading Reading.
''It wasn't five guys who didn't show up, it was everybody. That can't happen,'' Barton said. ''We've got a nice seven-hour bus trip to figure it out.''
Wheeling dropped its eighth shootout of the season, which is two more than any other ECHL team. The Nailers haven't beaten a goaltender in such situations in their last 16 opportunities, including 13 in a row in the last two appearances.
''We practice it and do it everyday,'' Wheeling coach Clark Donatelli said. ''We change (the shooters) up, but when things aren't going right, they don't go right.''
Delmas sparkled again in net, making 37 saves on 38 shots to help Wheeling finish with six of a possible eight points on a four-game homestand. The lone blemish was a controversial goal by Jackals (33-20-7 - 73) forward Kevin Harvey that looked to have been kicked into the net.
''I didn't see it on the film,'' Donatelli said of Harvey's 10th goal of the season, an equalizer at 9:32 of the second period. ''Give the refs credit; it's just too hard of a call to make if he doesn't see it.
''If the linesmen don't see it, there's no instant replay. The NHL has instant replay to make the proper call.''
Both Barton and Donatelli said that wasn't the difference in the outcome, noting among other things the Nailers' effort.
''We can't start our forecheck because of our puck placement,'' Donatelli said. ''We've got one guy going and he's not finishing checks, the next guy is late and they're coming out of the zone.
''They outworked us and beat us to all the loose pucks. They outshot us badly and we had no O-zone time.''
Barton added ''I just think we were getting outworked all night. You're not going to get too many shots when they've got the puck most of the game.''
Wheeling had a good start, taking a 1-0 lead 8:26 in when Max MacKay stole a puck in the offensive zone and fed it to Barton, who netted his 17th of the season. It was the lone puck to get past winning goaltender Maxime Clermont, who stopped 14 shots.
''I kind of shot through a screen before he could see it,'' Barton said.
Delmas kept his club in it with one save after another, but the Nailers were getting nothing in the way of sustained offensive pressure.
''If you have three or four guys (not working) you might be able to hang in there,'' Donatelli said. ''Thank God for Delly, because that was probably our worst game of the year.
''It's hard for a whole team to play bad like that.''
Matt Carter netted the winner. The only shooter on either side to score in the shootout, Carter put one top shelf on Delmas in the third round.
''We've definitely got to look in the mirror. It's each guy,'' Barton said.