WHEELING, WV – Coming off of a run to the Kelly Cup Finals, the bar was set pretty high for the Wheeling Nailers coming into the 2016-17 season. Though it’s a much different group this time around, it’s also a talented group up front that should be having success finding the scoresheet, but despite the expectations, three games in, they sit 0-2-1.
Head coach Jeff Christian‘s message to the team, however, is one of patience, as he told me after a long, hard mid-week practice.
“I don’t think the results really show what we’ve accomplished,” he said. “The first game we should’ve won we had a breakaway in overtime, the second game we were right in it 2-2 going to the third, and then the last game I though we dominated, yesterday (on video) I showed 24 scoring chances and we got one goal.
“It’s right there. It’s a new group together, the message is stay the course, we’re getting chances we’re just not finishing.”
All three have been one-goal games, and all three games were tied at some point in the third period.
“If we’re losing games in the third period, we need to be conditioned more so this week we’re working on battle drills and conditioning,” he said. “If you finish periods you finish games.
“We’re taking about that. It’s a process.”
Team captain Derek Army, last season’s leading goal scorer Cody Wydo, and AHL experienced off-season acquisition Nick Sorkin are all yet to score a goal.
“We’re out here battling hard and working hard (in practice).” Army said. “I think we need it, it’s one of the ways you get out of a funk is working hard.
“You see it with a lot of teams, you saw it last year with the Pittsburgh Penguins at times when (Sidney Crosby) and (Evgeni Malkin) weren’t scoring in the playoffs and other guys lifted them up.
“It’ll come. I think the first one is the hardest to get to go in. If you look around the league a lot of guys who score a lot of goals start out a little slow and get hot.
“We’ve got to stay positive. I’m out here trying to do the best I can (as captain) showing the way battling for that extra inch.
“It comes down to do you that extra mental toughness, the toughness to stay with a puck, to bang home a rebound, to take those extra hard strides to get to a puck?”
Wheeling’s leading scorer through the first three games is returning forward Jordan Kwas, who is the third line center and while he was a key contributor in the playoffs, he’s not the type of player who should be leading the offensive charge. He has a goal and two assists so far.
Newcomers Garrett Meurs and Josh Shalla each currently lead the way in goals with two each.
In net, Doug Carr has played all three games and has been solid with a 2.96 GAA and .901 SV%.
The Nailers seek their first win on Friday night in Kalamazoo, before coming home Saturday to face the K-Wings to complete a home and home set.
“They’re a good team,” Army said. “We’ve got to play our game against them and play smart.
“We’ve got to stick to the gameplan and keep working.”
While it’s early and the team has 69 games left on the schedule, there is urgency not to let the hole get too deep.
“We’ve got to get these wins, we’ve got to get these points,” Christian said. “We’ve got to grind for them.
“These points that are getting away could come back (to haunt us) but at the end of the day we’ve got a lot of games left and we’re learning.
“So yeah it’s ‘stay the course and be positive’ but at the same time we’ve got to get on a roll here and start winning.”