Nailers Avenge Friday’s Loss to Fort Wayne
WHEELING — Before missing six games due to an injury, Nailers’ forward Michael Joly had recorded nine points in the prior eight games.
On Sunday, playing in his third game back in the lineup, Joly made up for lost time — scoring two goals and dishing out a pair of assists in a 5-3 victory over Fort Wayne inside WesBanco Arena.
“I think he was playing some of his best hockey before he got injured,” Nailers’ coach Mark French said. “You can’t understate the fact that we don’t really get to practice because we are playing so much. So, asking a guy who was off the ice for such a long time to step back in and be up to form — I think he is rounding in to that after getting a few games under his belt.”
The four-point game was certainly a confidence boost for Joly.
“A point-game is always good for confidence,” Joly said. “It’s good for the team and it’s good for my linemates to get the chemistry going. I’ve been out for a couple of weeks and we needed that against a really good team.”
Wheeling also bounced back nicely from Friday’s 6-2 loss to Fort Wayne.
“We got out-coached, out-played, you name it in that game,” French said. “So, it was a good response to come back. The guys were pretty invested from the start of the game.”
The Nailers are now 6-1-1 in their last eight games and have registered points in five consecutive home games.
Wheeling opened the scoring midway through the first on the power play when Joly ripped a shot to the net. Joly came up empty-handed but his teammates forced the puck back out to Joshua Winquist, who found the back of the net.
Moments later, the Nailers’ defense forced a turnover and the puck found Joly’s stick again. He didn’t miss this time — drilling a shot from the top of the right circle to make it a 2-0 Nailers’ lead with 7:51 left in the first.
Wheeling got a big break late in the first when it killed a 5-minute penalty after Matt Foley received a game misconduct for kicking.
The Nailers entered the game with the lowest penalty kill percentage in the ECHL (78.8%) and Fort Wayne entered Sunday with the best power play percentage (28.2%).
“They are a really good power play team,” French said. “You certainly don’t want to give them the amount of chances that we did, especially in a 5-minute span where they could score multiple goals. I think that was a big moment early in the game.”
That was just the beginning of the penalties, however, as the two teams combined for nine penalties in the second period.
“They were hard to keep track of,” French said. “Usually when you break down a video there is not much special teams but this was all special teams so it will be a different breakdown. I thought special teams, for the most part, did a pretty good job.”
Former Nailer Brandon Hawkins helped get the Komets on the board to start the second on an assist to Anthony Nellis for a power play goal, only to see the Nailers respond.
On the power play, Winquist whistled a pass across the slot to Jolly, who lit the lamp from the right circle for a 3-1 cushion.
Fort Wayne’s A.J. Jenks made it a 3-2 game before Wheeling’s Jesse Lees skated into the right circle and fired a wrister into the cage for a 4-2 upperhand after two periods of play.
“One thing we’ve been doing better is answering back and responding,” French said. “Earlier in the season, they’d get one and it would take awhile to get our footing in the game. So, it’s been nice to see us showing a response after a team scores.”
Fort Wayne scored midway through the third but, once again, Wheeling answered as Winquist capitalized on an empty-netter to put the game on ice.
Taran Kozun collected 21 saves for Wheeling as Louis-Phillip Guindon stopped 26 of 30 shots — the most shots he has faced in his career.