WHEELING - Wheeling Nailers coach Clark Donatelli often talks about the little details in the game that can be the difference between winning and losing. But what does he really mean?
''If you're one inch out of place it's not a goal,'' he said earlier this week at WesBanco Arena. ''It means something ... it means goals.
''It's hard work and determination - not being denied.
''I know all these guys want to score goals, but you've got to really want to score goals.''
So far, the Nailers haven't had much luck in that regard. They enter Friday's 7 p.m. home matchup with defending Kelly Cup champion Reading having scored just five goals in three games. To rub salt in the wound, they were blanked 2-0 last Saturday night in Toledo.
''It's a 0-0 game (after two periods) in Toledo and we played really, really well. But the difference was inches,'' Donatelli said. ''If you do a P.O.P - pass off the pads - you go to the net with a purpose knowing that guy is going to pass it off the goalie's pads. You've got to know that is coming.
''Larry Bird led the NBA in rebounding (one year) and he can't jump. There's a reason for that. He knew where the ball was going to go.''
Wheeling has no shortage of goal scorers on this roster. The problem is, few of them have done it at the professional level. There's a learning curve newcomers have to go through.
''A few rookies in there that were big scorers in junior and college. But at any level you've got to go to the hard areas to get goals,'' Donatelli said. ''They're learning that it's hard work. It's hard to score at this level. You've got to go to the hard areas and you've got to capitalize on situations.
''It's a game of inches and it's all in the details, which is what we're going to stress this week.''
Veterans aren't immune, however. Chaz Johnson, Denver Manderson, Zack Torquato and Scott Zurevinski have combined for one goal and one assist, both coming from Torquato.
Defense Holding its Own
The Nailers may not be scoring much, but they're not allowing the opposition many, either. Through three games Wheeling has surrendered eight goals, none on the power play.
''You think that we would be scoring and goals and defense would be, not a problem, but a suspect spot,'' Donatelli said. ''Our defense is playing really well. It's good team defense, because our forwards are playing very well on the backcheck.''
Old, New Faces
Goaltender Peter Delmas was returned to the Nailers late last week, assigned by the Montreal Canadiens. He was then sent back to Hamilton of the AHL when the Pittsburgh Penguins assigned rookie Eric Hartzell to Wheeling on Wednesday.
Hartzell, 24, will be making his professional hockey debut with the Nailer after four seasons of college hockey at Quinnipiac. While majoring in Business in the classroom, he enjoyed tremendous success on the ice , finishing with a winning record in all four seasons between the pipes and was a Hobey Baker Award finalist last season.
The White Bear Lake, MN native appeared in 106 games, going 58-27-17, and also led the Bobcats to the NCAA National Championship Game during his senior season. Hartzell dressed in one NHL game last season, backing up Marc-Andre Fleury for the Penguins in Ottawa on April 22.
Rugged defenseman Dustin Stevenson has been sent down from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and should be cleared to play this weekend. He brings a physical, net-front presence and was a member of Reading's title-winning team last season.
Stevenson had nine points (1g-8a) in 22 playoff games. He registered 10 points (all assists) and 103 penalty minutes during the regular season and was a plus-14.
Shawn Rine can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org