WHEELING - A satisfied coach 15 games through a 72-game schedule will probably be looking for employment before he even reaches that point. Wheeling Nailers boss Stan Drulia certainly doesn't fall into that category.
Though the Nailers (10-5-0 - 20) have been in first place all but a few days this season, Drulia continues to see room for improvement.
''We like our team (but) I still think our record can be a bit better,'' Drulia said after practice Tuesday at WesBanco Arena. ''There's some opportunities where we kind of gave away a couple games.
''But for a young team, I think the learning curve has been really good. We're still talking about detail and the guys are buying in.''
Drulia is referring to games in which his team held a decided advantage in every statistical category but the one that matters the most - the one on the scoreboard.
''I was on a team years ago where we dominated from start to finish,'' Drulia said. ''But when we had breakdowns, we had pretty big breakdowns and needed our goaltenders to come up big for us.
''That's kinda the same thing that happens here.
''We'll be all over teams and we'll have a breakdown and it will be a 3-on-1. We have to learn to manage those situations better.''
Wheeling, which is coming off a 3-1 loss in Gwinnett, is preparing for a weekend that includes its first look at Reading on Friday, then another encounter Saturday night at The Bank with Trenton. That will be a month-long theme as 10 of the 14 games in December will be against those two squads.
''We're watching video all day (Monday) and all day (Tuesday),'' said Drulia, who admitted he hasn't seen much of the Royals (7-9-3 - 17) until now. ''There's a lot of structure that's similar from last year with Larry (Courville) being there.
''Last year they were a pretty good power play - pretty good special teams all the way around. Transition was very, very good for them. They bump pucks very good and they were very fast through the neutral zone. Last year they were very opportunistic offensively against us.''
The Nailers continue to get big-time production for their defense corps. Two games ago Andrew Hotham had the first four-point night of his young career.
''Everything that he did offensively worked very, very well,'' Drulia said of Hotham. ''We talked to our 'D' (Monday) about certain situations I think they can be better at.
''We need offense from our back end - we want to score by committee.''
Wheeling has also received sterling performances of late from Ben Farrer and Chris Barton. Farrer, a rookie from Providence College, has scored four goals in seven games and is a plus-7.
''We knew Ben could play,'' Drulia said. ''Numbers dictated the situation, but he was patient and continued to work hard.
''We play 72 games here and we're still only 15 into it. So that's a lot of hockey for a kid coming out of college.
''We were fortunate that he was good enough to continue to work hard and when he got his time, he took advantage of it.''
Barton, meanwhile, has been tearing the league up. Also a rookie out of Merrimack College, Barton leads all ECHL rookies in goals (12), and is second in scoring (21 points).
Drulia doesn't expect him to be around much longer.
''My phone is starting to ring asking questions about Chris Barton, and I talked to (him) about it,'' the coach said. ''He's going to get his opportunity here at the American League level very, very soon.
''He's got to continue to play the game the same way. If he plays that way he's going to get a chance.''