WHEELING - Wheeling captain Peter Merth walked into postgame interviews Wednesday with a black right eye that was nearly swollen shut and accompanied by a couple stitches, the result of an errant stick the night before. Then he flashed his trademark toothless grin and described it simply by saying 'it will heal.' ''
The Nailers are getting well themselves. They completed a mini two-game sweep of the Greenville Road Warriors with a 4-1 victory on Educational Field Trip Day at WesBanco Arena. Wheeling (10-10-5 - 25) has won four in a row and has climbed back to the .500 mark and out of last place in the Atlantic Division, just five points out of sixth in the Eastern Conference.
''It feels good when you win,'' Merth, who despite his injuries, won a fight with Greenville's Justin Wilson late in the second period. ''That stuff happens and we've been playing well, not talking any (stuff) from the other teams and it's showed.
Wheeling’s Peter Merth (6) controls the puck Wednesday as Greenville’s Jordie Johnstown trails.
Photo by Scott McCloskey
''It's all part of the game.''
The Nailers had it all rolling for the fourth straight time in what is a six-game homestand that ends with games Friday and Saturday against Elmira. Goaltender Peter Delmas improved to 3-0 with a 21-save effort, the power play scored for the eighth straight game - twice actually - and the penalty kill turned away the Road Warriors (17-12-2 -36) on three chances.
''I think we always knew we could do it, it was just a matter of sticking to the systems and believing in what (Coach Clark Donatelli) was saying and going out there and getting the job done,'' said Paul Crowder, who scored two goals after missing Tuesday night's game with an illness.
Greenville0 1 0 - 1
Wheeling1 1 2 - 4
1st Period-1, Wheeling, Sneep 2 (Barton, Hotham), 15:12 (PP). Penalties-Stejskal Whl (cross-checking), 7:02; Stamler Grn (roughing), 14:02.
2nd Period-2, Greenville, Verreault 7 (McArdle), 7:01. 3, Wheeling, Crowder 6 (Stejskal, Lenes), 14:18. Penalties-Leveille Whl (interference on the goalkeeper), 7:27; Merth Whl (delay of game), 15:11; Wilson Grn (slashing , fighting - major), 17:30; Merth Whl (fighting - major), 17:30.
3rd Period-4, Wheeling, Crowder 7 (Hotham, Lenes), 5:51. 5, Wheeling, Wild 4 13:44 (PP). Penalties-Berkstresser Grn (slashing ), 13:38; Cameron Grn (fighting - major), 16:42; Hansen Whl (fighting - major), 16:42.
Shots on Goal-Greenville 8-6-8-22. Wheeling 9-19-6-34.
Power-Play Opportunities-Greenville 0-3; Wheeling 2-3.
Goalies-Greenville, Missiaen 2-1-0-0 (34 shots-30 saves). Wheeling, Delmas 3-0-0-0 (22 shots-21 saves).
Referee-Nic Leduc (14); Linesmen-Zach Roberts (84), Brad Phillips (66).
''At times we would have setbacks where the other team would pounce on it, but these four games we've been able to minimize those lapses and take it to them for a full 60 minutes.''
The Nailers are getting it done with a more tenacious style, led by guys like Merth and fellow defenseman Joe Stejskal, who has ramped up his physical play a couple notches.
''That's what any D-core wants to do, is play simple, move the puck up and be physical,'' Stejskal, who had an assist said. ''It's fun when guys stick to the system and guys are on the same page and playing the right way.
''I think playing here in Wheeling I'm getting a lot of ice time and I'm getting a lot of confidence. I just need to keep being physical, being intense out there.''
Wheeling started the scoring at 15:12 of the first when Carl Sneep got a second chance after missing a golden opportunity. Andrew Hotham retrieved that miss, got the puck to Chris Barton who fed Sneep for his second of the season, a wrister coming down the slot that beat Road Warriors goaltender Jason Missiaen.
Greenville knotted the score after corralling a turnover in its own zone and going the other way. Coming down the left wing, Francis Verreault trickled a shot past Delmas with 7:01 gone in the second.
Less than seven minutes later, the Nailers retook the lead for good as Crowder, stationed in front of the net, deflected a Stejskal point shot into the cage on a delayed penalty call for his sixth of the season. It looked as though it might have been high-sticking.
''I could have been, but I'll take it,'' Crowder said with a laugh. ''I'm not going to argue that.''
The Nailers upped the margin to 3-1 as Peter Lenes, who had two assists, was denied on a nice one-timer. Crowder got the puck, circled into the slot and beat Missiaen on the backhand for his second of the game and seventh overall.
''We're preaching to play a full 60 minutes. (It's) a 2-1 game going into the third and we've been there many times this year,'' Donatelli said. ''We're trying to get an identity of playing 60 minutes every night and the guys had a real good game.
''I'm proud of the guys. All year we've been working really, really hard and have been real close.''
Cody Wild completed the scoring with a blast from the left point for his fourth, which came so quickly into a power play that the name of the offending Greenville player had not finished being announced.
Putting the exclamation point on a victory was defenseman Zach Hansen dropping the gloves with Road Warriors tough guy Brett Cameron. Hansen lost the fight, but his passion didn't go unnoticed.
''That's all you can ask for, is that guys show up,'' Donatelli said. ''He competed, he hacked, he had some cross-checks and he was battling in the corners and not getting beat.
''The fight's the end result of a lot frustration from people that he (ticked) off during the game.''