Nailers Blanked by Utah

Injuries, callups are taking toll on Wheeling

Wheeling’s Alex Rauter prepares to let a shot rip during Friday’s 3-0 loss to the Utah Grizzlies. Photo by Joe Lovell

WHEELING — An already decimated Wheeling Nailers roster may be down another player. Coach Mike Bavis’ club has been dressing defensemen as forwards for the past couple of weeks, and when Mark Petacchio was injured early in the first period and returned to Friday night’s game only briefly, the margin for error suddenly became razor-thin

The Utah Grizzlies certainly didn’t need that type of benefit, but they took it anyway. J.T. Henke and Travis Barron each had a goal and an assist while Kevin Carr earned his second shutout as the Mountain Division-leading Grizzlies (22-8-4 — 48) left WesBanco Arena with a 3-0 victory against the Nailers (17-16-2 — 36).

”We’ve got a couple moves to make just to give ourselves some depth right now,” Bavis said. ”We’ve got to get through this period where we are right now.”

Wheeling dressed nine forwards and had defenseman Craig Skudalski playing up front at the start of the night. Petacchio’s injury forced Bavis to give tough guy Brad Drobot a regular shift and the coach liked what he saw.

”Drobot did a good job and Skudalski really went into the game and ripped a couple on the rush while looking confident,” Bavis said.

”They’re giving us some energy and some life and lifting our team up.

”We need to get, quite honestly, the same kind of effort from some of our other guys.”

The Nailers, who were blanked for the second time this season, peppered Carr early by registering the game’s first seven shots. The problem is, none of them — as well as the other 23 Wheeling put forth — found the back of the net.

The Grizzlies got on the board first, marking the 18th straight game involving the Nailers in which the team that breaks the scoreless tie has come out on top. Tim McGauley whipped the puck from the left circle to the middle of the ice, where Henke, the ECHL’s reigning Rookie of the Month, sent a rocket past Wheeling goaltender John Muse and into the top-left corner of the net for his 12th of the season — in 18 games — at 12:38 of the first period.

That was the only goal the Grizzlies needed, but they added one each in both the second and third periods.

Barron made it 2-0 with a power-play goal at 9:30 of the second. Ryan Walters won a puck battle along the boards and found an open Barron, who blew his second past Muse.

”Sometimes when you pressure on the penalty kill and you lose that battle on the wall, you are compromised where they get numbers coming off the wall,” Bavis said. ”I’ll have to look at it on the tape.

”But it’s one of those things that once you get beat on the wall you could be in trouble, because then they outnumber you attacking the net.”

It’s not as though Wheeling didn’t have chances. The issue was, it generally didn’t get more than one at a time. That was a credit to both Carr’s rebound control and the positional work by Utah’s defense.

”They did a good job of frustrating our breakout and our break-ins,” Nailers forward Zac Lynch said. ”We didn’t really get many clean looks when entered the zone, and that’s what it turned into — a lot of 1-and-dones.

”It’s not what we want from our power play. We didn’t win a lot of our draws so we start the power plays chasing the puck.”

That was definitely a factor, according to Bavis.

”When you lose face-offs, then you know you’re going 200 feet,” the coach said. ”The second part is, their forecheck was giving us problems when we tried to play our late drop.

”They kind of jumped it and tried to bring numbers back. They brought a guy down and tried to challenge our D coming out from behind of the net and we didn’t respond well there.

”That part has to get better. But that’s a really good team and quite honestly, it’s not a good matchup for us.”

Utah iced the game with an empty-net goal from Jake Marchment at 19:19 of the third.

All is not lost for the weekend, though. Wheeling entertains division rival Indy tonight and Sunday.

”Every game is huge, but especially with this division being so tight,” Lynch said. ”We’ve got a big opportunity this weekend to turn it around after a rough Friday night.”

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