WHEELING, W.Va. – With two games to go before the quarter mark of the season, the Nailers are in the midst of a tough portion of the schedule that sees them battle divisional opponents 11 straight times. They have gone 3-0-1-0 to start the stretch. The games have been thrillers, seeing Wheeling win in the final two minutes twice and once in overtime before falling in overtime on Saturday night in Fort Wayne.
Heading into tonight’s game against Fort Wayne in Wheeling, head Coach Mike Bavis said:
“It does feel like we’re into the teeth of the, not only the season, but the division and seeing Fort Wayne three times in a row is a pretty good test, and to get a point in their building I think that’s a good point.” He added, ”They’re a pretty explosive offense as well to leave there with a point, we were satisfied and it’s a good point.”
The penalty kill has been strong during this stretch, killing 13 of the last 14 penalties called against them. So far this season, the Nailers are killing 84.5 percent of the power plays against them, good for ninth in the league in that category.
“The structure of the penalty kill has been good since day one. Even when we were scored on early in the season it was more a function of just one guy just getting a couple feet out of position and even a couple guys late in kills that traditional wouldn’t be out there due to injuries or killers in the box and it’s just an odd type play so actually statically could be better than it is but in terms of the eyeball test it’s been really good,” Bavis said of the penalty kill.
The black and Vegas gold only has one short-handed goal for on the year after setting a team record scoring 19 short-handed goals during the 2018-19 campaign.
The power play has been sluggish to start the season only converting on eight of 53 chances for a 15.1 percent success rate. The power play has been a work and Coach Bavis’ remarks reflect that: “We’ve tried some different things and we have a lot of personnel that can play it, so we constantly kind of evaluate who should go where and don’t know if we’ve really got to that level where everybody is clicking and has been up to the point where it hasn’t lost momentum.”
Offensively, the Nailers have been led by Jan Drozg and Cam Brown. In fifteen games, the rookie Drozg has scored 10 goals to go along with eight assists to pace the team.
“He’s a really dynamic player, able to just kind of weave in and just penetrate some areas and get to the middle of the rink to get his shot off. He’s used his speed more in the last six weeks than maybe he did when he first arrived, so he’s threatened on the rush, he’s used his speed to get in on the forecheck so he’s building a lot of parts of his game than just his scoring,” Bavis said of the 20-year-old rookie.
Brown has been strong against Fort Wayne, scoring three goals and three assists, and for the season, Brown has with seven goals and nine assists for 16 points in 16 games.
Defenseman Blake Siebenaler leads scoring from the blue line as he has netted four goals (three of which have been game winners in the final two minutes of regulation).
Between the pipes, Alex D’Orio leads the way having played in 11 of the teams 16 games. After a rough outing to start the season, D’Orio has been impressive, winning seven of his last nine starts.
“He’s really composed in there, has good size and puck just hit him,” Bavis said of the rookie netminder. “In the odd game when he let a goal early, he just resets and gets back to his top level. I think it’s one of his strengths as a player and he’s been a big part of us being in the race this year.”
Completing the tandem in net for the team from Nail City is Jordan Ruby. The Tavistock, ON native is 1-2-2-0 on the season with a 4.12 goals against.
Wheeling and Fort Wayne begin a home-and-home series tonight in Wheeling at 7:05 pm.
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