The Wheeling Nailers were a team looking for a win on Wednesday. For a little over two periods it looked like they were going to get one.
Taking a 3-0 lead into the third period, it looked like a lock that the Nailers would come away with a pair of points, but things unraveled in a big way during the final 15 minutes at WesBanco Arena and somehow the Nailers found themselves on the wrong end of a 4-3 overtime loss to the Reading Royals.
“Totally unacceptable,” Wheeling head coach Clark Donatelli. “We can’t have that. A three-goal third period lead needs to be a win and we are going to start holding people accountable.”
After a slow start to the season, the Nailers put together a nice three-game win streak before losing at Evansville and Cincinnati over the weekend. This was one they couldn’t afford to drop, even early in the season.
Momentum went away from the Nailers at the four minute mark of the third period when Adam Payerl got in an ill-advised fight with Reading’s David Marshall. After that the Royals had some extra jump and began chipping away at the three-goal deficit.
“It was a fight,” said Donatelli, whose team has had discipline issues all season so far. “Adam was cut and had to leave. That certainly hurt. But a fight is a fight. I don’t know anything about good timing or bad timing.”
Reading’s Ian O’Connor scored his first goal of the season just seconds later. Nailers’ goaltender Patrick Killeen stopped Patrick Wellar’s initial shot from the point, but O’Connor was there to put back the rebound.
Killeen, a sixth round pick of the Penguins in 2008, had stopped the first 17 shots of the game, but saved his best for moments after Reading got on the board.
With momentum swinging the Royals way, Killeen made a fantastic pad save to prevent a Reading goal and a minute later turned in a big glove save on an odd-man rush. But ultimately it wasn’t enough.
With 8:02 left in the third, Kirk MacDonald tipped Dustin Stevenson’s shot through Killeen’s legs to bring Reading to within one.
Then the Royals got the tying goal on a crazy sequence.
Wheeling defensemen Reid McNeill committed a costly giveaway to set the Royals up with a two-on-one opportunity. But McNeill hustled back on the play and made a diving breakup of a pass which set the Nailers up on a two-on-one of their own but defensemen Carl Sneep couldn’t get a shot off on goal.
On their ensuing trip down the ice, the Royals got the equalizer, when Scott Wietecha rifled in a slap shot from the right point. That goal sent the game into overtime.
Both teams exchanged quality scoring chances in overtime before Wietecha capitalized off of a neutral zone turnover. He picked the top corner of the goal, lifting the Royals to the 4-3 win.
“We have to do a better job of shutting teams down when we get a jump on them,” said Nailers’ captain Peter Merth. “No one in our locker room likes to be in this situation and it all depends on how we react to this. That begins tomorrow. We have a couple of games beginning Friday to get it figured out.”
In the loss, the Nailers wasted a big night from Philippe Lefebvre, who tallied goals in both the first and second periods to get the Nailers offense going.
Lefebvre put the Nailers on the board early in the first when he got one past Reading goaltender Philipp Grubauer, a Washington Capitals draft pick. Lefebvre deflected McNeill’s original shot from the middle of the blue line.
Wheeling played well with the lead and missed a couple of chances until the six-minute mark of the second period when Lefebvre struck again, scoring a beautiful goal right off the face-off, from Sneep and Chaput. Chaput won the draw to Sneep, who fed Lefebvre for the goal in the low slot.
The 21-year-old apparently likes playing against the Royals as he came into the game with a goal and a pair of assists on the season, all against Reading.
Wheeling’s Cody Chupp, who was fresh off a two-goal game Friday at Evansville, made it 3-0 in the second when he buried a wrist shot past Grubauer on a two-on-one.
Nailers defensemen Carl Sneep made the play to spring the odd-man break and played a solid game overall, assisting on the Nailers’ second and third goals. The former 2006 second round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins was playing only his second game in a Nailers uniform after being assigned to Wheeling earlier in the week from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Sneep and Chaput each had a pair of assists for the Nailers.
‘I was able to make a couple of plays tonight and the guys finished,” said Sneep. “But this one will leave a bad taste in your mouth for a while.”
The Nailers resume action on Friday when they host Toledo.
WHL- Lefebvre (McNeill, Chaput) 4:26
WHL- Lefebvre 2 (Sneep, Chaput) 6:20
WHL- Chupp (Sneep, Ross) 15:53
REA- O’Connor (Wellar, Todd) 4:50
REA- MacDonald (Stevenson, Cox) 11:58
REA- Wietecha (Tifu, MacDonald) 16:08.
REA- Wietecha 2 (Marshall, Berry), 2:10