WHEELING - A glance at the ECHL Atlantic Division standings shows that Reading is heads and shoulders above the competition, and that includes second-place Wheeling. But Nailers goaltender Scott Darling said Saturday night that those numbers - a 14-point Royals lead - may not tell the story.
''Man-for-man we're as good if not better than any team in the league,'' Darling said after authoring his second pro shutout, a 27-save effort in a 5-0 blanking of the Trenton Titans at WesBanco Arena. ''We have so much skill and the right types of players on this team, with the grinders and the hitters and the goal scorers.
''When it's clicking we're pretty lethal out there.''
Paul Crowder (22) celebrates his hat trick with netminder Scott Darling (30).
Photo by Joe Lovell
Wheeling (15-12-6 - 36) heads to Reading today for a 4 p.m. face-off, looking for a three-game, weekend sweep of division rivals.
The Nailers do so on the heels of arguably their most thorough effort of the season.
Paul Crowder had a hat trick before the game was seven minutes old, Scott Zurevinski had a three-point night and Peter Merth netted a pair of assists. Oh, and Ben Farrer and Zack Torquato achieved a couple of firsts - goal and point, respectively.
''It's 60 solid minutes,'' Nailers coach Clark Donatelli said. ''We came out and had a good, solid first period and the puck was going in the net.''
Crowder netted his 12th, 13th and 14th goals, all against Scott Wedgewood who was replaced after the third one having stopped four of seven shots. Crowder backhanded one over the goalie's shoulder 49 seconds in, then carried a defender through the crease before tucking the puck in the cage. Thirteen seconds later he notched a hat trick by coming down the left wing and wristing the puck past Wedgewood on the far side.
''I thought 'just put it on net' and it's gotta go in, especially the way it was going,'' Crowder said. ''Once we put a couple pucks behind the first goalie we knew the second one was going to be a little shaky.
''We tried to get as many shots as we could on net and I think it worked out.''
Farrer tallied between Crowder's first and second goals, and Zurevinski ended the scoring when he tipped a Merth point shot past backup Niko Hovinen, who was Friday night's loser, for his eighth of the season to close the scoring at 14:35 of the first.
Darling was superb when he needed to be, especially midway through the second period, turning away three successive Trenton (14-14-5 - 33) shots from three separate angles.
''That was probably the hardest 10 seconds of the whole game,'' Darling said. ''Other than that the guys played great. I didn't have to make any ridiculous saves.''
He would have had to make one if Joe Stejskal hadn't broken up a 3-on-1 break attempt.
''That's the stuff you don't see on the stat sheet, but as a goalie I notice it every game,'' Darling said. ''He sits next to me in the stall every game so I make sure to thank him.''