WHEELING - It wasn't any easier for Clark Donatelli to accept, but he sees the Wheeling Nailers making big strides in a small amount of time.
The Nailers (4-8-3 - 11) played one of their better all-around games of the season, yet one breakdown in their own zone proved to be the difference. Garrett Wilson found himself all alone right in front of the cage, put a move on Wheeling goaltender Scott Darling and barely slid the puck home for his seventh of the season, as the Cyclones (10-4-2 - 22) emerged with a 2-0 victory Saturday night at WesBanco Arena.
Smith later added an empty-net goal, marking the first of three meetings that wasn't decided by a single goal. The Cyclones previously beat the Nailers in a shootout and once in overtime.
Wheeling’s Peter Merth, right, and Cincinnati’s Mattias Lindstrom battle for the puck Saturday night.
Photo by Joe Lovell
''We had the three guys in corner and one of our players was drifting - he thought the puck was going to go out,'' Donatelli said of the winning goal. ''With the three guys there, you've got to stay home.
''We had one breakdown and that was the difference in the game.''
Wilson's goals made a winner of Zoltan Hetenyi, who stopped all 31 shots for his first professional shutout.
It wasn't as though the Nailers didn't have chances. Paul Crowder was denied on a rebound with 8:35 left and Philippe Lefebvre was turned away on a delayed penalty and then missed high from in close off a turnover with 1:37 remaining.
''We've got to hit the net on those shots. We needed to get more traffic,'' Donatelli said. ''I thought in the second period we got some shots around (Hetenyi) and he played well.''
Crowder got whistled for a double- minor for hooking less than two minutes into a scoreless third period, but the Nailers were able to kill it off while allowing just one shot. Not long later, however, Scott Zurevinski went off for slashing and Wheeling was guilty of the breakdown, leading to Wilson's first of the night at 7:10.
''It's hard to kill six minutes in a row - maybe six out of eight minutes,'' Donatelli said. ''It wears you down.''
One game after pitching a shutout, Darling was given a second consecutive start. He responded by stopping 14 of 15 shots.
''It was a tough decision because (Patrick Killeen's) played really good games against Cincinnati,'' Donatelli said. ''Killer's our guy and he's a really good goaltender. Scotty played really well.''
Wheeling is off until Wednesday when it welcomes Trenton to WesBanco Arena.
''Let's say we played 59 good minutes,'' Donatelli said. ''They transition, they work off the rush and are very dynamic offensively. I thought we did a great job clogging up the neutral zone and we did a great job in the offensive zone, especially in the first and third periods.
''It was a good, solid effort. We just didn't get the job done.''