WHEELING, W.Va. – With victories over Brampton and divisional foes Toledo and Fort Wayne, the Wheeling Nailers have earned seven out of eight available points in four games, pushing hard towards securing a playoff spot in the Central.
In the only trip to the Great White North on Tuesday, February 26, the Wheeling Nailers got scoring across the lineup, as only three skaters and the goalie earned at least a point in the game. The pool noodles given away to the school day crowd in Brampton couldn’t prevent the Beast from drowning against the Nailers, 6-2.
On Friday, March 1, the Nailers sent defenseman Brien Diffley to Manchester to complete a trade from this past summer that saw Zac Lynch to Wheeling. Alex Rauter also was sent to Manchester in this deal. Lynch was also loaned to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL on Friday, February 22. This started some roster shuffling that continued on Sunday as Cam Brown was recalled and Jeff Taylor were reassigned to Wilkes Barre/Scranton on the AHL. Wednesday saw Wheeling’s defensive corps get a potential boost as Blake Siebenaler was assigned by Pittsburgh (NHL).
The Nailers then went into a three-in-three from March 1 through 3, earning the aforementioned wins against Toledo (5-2 on Friday) and Fort Wayne (3-2 on Sunday) while earning a point in an overtime loss versus Cincinnati (3-2 on Saturday). Wheeling (27-24-6-1) and Fort Wayne (26-20-3-6) both have 61 points, but the Komets currently have the edge with three games in hand on the Nailers.
Wheeling’s active points leader is rookie forward Yushiroh Hirano with 15g-31a for 46 points in 53 games this season. Second is forward Renars Krastenbergs with 15g-22a for 37 points. On the blue line, Wheeling is paced by Kevin Spinozzi with 14g-19a for 33 points in 32 games in Nail City. Spinozzi’s 14 goals are tied for the league lead in defenseman goal scoring.
On special teams, the Nailers have been strong shorthanded, scoring 17 times while down at least one skater. Wheeling broke the previous team record of 15 shorthanded goals at Toledo on Friday, with Winston Day Chief and Spinozzi netting empty-net goals during a 6-on-4 Toledo advantage late in the third period. Leading the team on SHG’s is Cedric Lecroix, whose five shorthanded goals is good for second in the league. On the power play, forward Michael Phillips leads the team with nine man-advantage goals on the year, with Hirano contributing seven markers on the power play.
The coming week takes Wheeling to Fort Wayne on Wednesday, March 6 and Kalamazoo on Sunday, March 10. The Wings are currently in third place in the Central with 63 points, leaving the Nailers and Komets very much in contention with their 61 points a side. In the Wheeling’s final 14 games, they will play only one game outside of the Central Division: a March 30 contest at Santander Arena in Reading.
Coach Mike Bavis offered this when asked about the stretch run to the playoffs:
“We have those teams that are right in front of us; we control our own destiny. That’s a good feeling to have, but they are tough games, and you sprinkle in Cincinnati two more times. It’s a hard schedule down the stretch, but it’s right there in front of us, and I think our guys are looking forward to the challenge.”
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