The Wheeling Nailers had two separate leads Saturday night at WesBanco Arena, but they could not hold onto either of them as the Reading Royals erased an early 2-0 Wheeling lead, and then a 3-2 Nailers advantage in the third period, to eventually hand the Nailers a 4-3 defeat in overtime.
“We (didn’t) close them out, we turned pucks over,” Nailers coach Jeff Christian said. “That’s a veteran team over there, they’re on a roll.
“It’s so frustrating as a coach when I’m just screaming to just get the puck deep , get the puck deep, and our guys just think think they’re going to dangle and they turn the puck over.
“I told them ‘do you want to play your way lose or play my way and try to win?’ That right there was a great example of I’m going to do it my way.
The Nailers (24-15-5) lost the battle on special teams in a pretty damaging way, as all three of the Royals (28-14-3) goals in regulation came on the man advantage, while Wheeling failed to convert on several late power play chances that could have given them a different outcome.
“We had them on the ropes there and I thought we played well but obviously our penalty kill wasn’t getting the job done tonight,” said Jarrett Burton, who had a pair of assists. “It’s part of our job, were going to have penalty kills every night.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re killing them and close out games.”
They would not make an excuse out of it, but the Nailers were wrapping up a tough portion of the schedule, playing the third game in a three in three that had them play in three different cities, and a was their seventh game in 12 days.
“Obviously we’re having trouble closing out games,” defenseman Danny Fick said. “Yeah it definitely doesn’t help playing that many games.
“Playing three in three with all the travel isn’t helpful, especially in the third period when you’re trying to close out games it has some effect, but it’s mental I think you just gotta fight through it.”
The Nailers got off to a great start, as veteran Darryl Lloyd tipped in a Burton feed just 28 seconds into the game for a 1-0 lead, then at the 4:11 mark when the Nailers were on the power play, Reading goalie Martin Ouellette (26 saves) coughed up the puck behind the net and Jordan Kwas buried his team leading 17th of the year for an early 2-0 Nailers lead.
Power play goals from Matt Willows about 10 minutes of action apart brought Reading right back into it, however, and it was a 2-2 deadlock after one.
“Tonight at 2-0 early the game is over, just score the next goal and cruise but no we take penalties and take penalties and take penalties,” Christian said. “We should’ve beat Cincinnati (Thursday), we let that point get away, we should’ve beat Reading, we let this point get away.
“What happens is all of a sudden in the last ten games of the years your’re like oh man we really need those points.”
1:39 into the second period Burton found Fick with time and space and he wristed his second of the season past Ouellette to a 3-2 Nailers advantage, which they were able to hold onto headed to the third period.
With under eight to play in the game, though, Willows once again on the power play got a loose puck just over goal line in a mad scramble around the crease to complete the hat trick and even the score at 3-3.
The Nailers failed on two late power play and finished just 1/7 on the night, before OT when this time Willows did the setting up and dished a pass to Jesper Petterson high in the slot and he ripped a shot by Wheeling netmider Sean Maguire (25 saves) to hand the Nailers a 4-3 defeat.
Wheeling travels to Idaho for three games week.
Follow me on Twitter @AndrewGrimm_