WHEELING - With what amounts to three healthy No. 1 goaltenders, it was only a matter of time before one became the odd man out in Wheeling. That turned out to be Patrick Killeen, who was in the midst of his third season with the Nailers.
The Penguins reassigned the 22-year-old Killeen to Orlando of the ECHL on Wednesday, but he could return to Wheeling at any point in an injury situation.
''Right now he's just going down for the weekend because Pittsburgh wants him to play,'' Wheeling coach Clark Donatelli said by phone from Florida. ''I discussed some player movement with'' Solar Bears coach Drake Berehowsky '' but he doesn't have anyone he can move right now.
Killeen started 89 games in a Wheeling uniform, posting a 41-33-10 record, including five shutouts. He appeared in a total of nine playoff games the last two seasons, going 2-5.
The goaltender accompanied the Nailers on their weeklong, three-game stay last weekend in Orlando, despite the fact he was on the 21-day injured reserve, heightening speculation about the future of the Penguins' sixth-round (180 overall) draft pick in 2008 because those on IR normally don't travel with the team. Killeen hadn't played since breaking his hand following a shootout loss at home to Florida on Dec. 8 at WesBanco Arena.
A Carp, Ontario, native, Killeen became expendable in part because of the emergence of Scott Darling, who was originally brought to camp as insurance because of the NHL lockout. But given a chance, Darling has shined with an 8-5-2 record, including a 2.55 goals-against average, a .901 save percentage and a pair of shutouts.
Darling will team with Peter Delmas (7-4-2, 2.58, .894), who like Killeen, is playing his third season in Wheeling, down the stretch.
Given that they only took four defenseman for the three games in Orlando, the fact the Nailers were able to emerge with any points, let alone a pair, should not be lost on anyone when the season begins to wind down. Wheeling fought tooth-and-nail after falling 7-2 in the opener, to earn one point Saturday in an overtime loss, and another Monday in a shootout defeat.
''The first game we played OK, but it wasn't our best performance there,'' Donatelli said. ''I thought the new guys did pretty well and I thought Benny Farrer did a great job as a forward playing defense.''
The trip was a microcosm of the Nailers' misadventures this season on the road. They've won just twice in 18 games away from WesBanco Arena, allowing their hosts to register 32 of a possible 36 points.
Overall, Wheeling has an 18-14-8 record and sits third in the Atlantic division, two points behind Elmira, and ninth - the top eight make the playoffs - in the Eastern Conference. However, the Nailers own at least one game in hand on all but two teams in the conference, and as many as five (on South Carolina), meaning the ground is there to make up for the club.
Wheeling was represented at the All-Star Game in Loveland, Colo., by defenseman Andrew Hotham, who got things kicked off on the right foot by winning the Accuracy Shooting Competition at the Skills Challenge. He hit all four targets in just five shots.
He competed in the All-Star Game, which began at 9 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday night.
Hotham, who was playing Oklahoma City of the AHL prior to the all-star game, was to return to the Barons following the game.
The Nailers come out of the All-Star break with a three-in-three situation, playing twice at home and once on the road. Wheeling welcomes Bakersfield at 7 on Friday night before traveling to Trenton on Saturday. The club is back home Sunday at 4 p.m. against Cincinnati.
As far as promotions go, adult beverages are $1 through the first intermission Friday. Sunday is the annual Pups N Pucks when fans can bring their dogs to the game.
Whether or not Wilkes-Barre will send any defensive reinforcements, is yet to be determined.
''That's a conversation we have to have real soon,'' Donatelli said.
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net