The Wheeling Nailers’ Austin Fyten got credit for the winning goal after he circumvented the defense and saw the puck get poked away by the stick of goaltender Louis-Philip Guindon, only for it to still find its way into the Komets’ net amid a mass of bodies with 59 seconds remaining Sunday.
Nick Rivera added an empty-net goal and the Nailers emerged with a 5-3 victory in Wheeling, West Virginia.
But the biggest play may have come 3:24 before Fyten’s game-winner, when Nailers goaltender Shane Starrett slid to thwart a Stephen Harper shot at the end of a 2-on-1 rush.
The Komets had battled back from a two-goal deficit, thanks to goals from Morgan Adams-Moisan and A.J. Jenks, and Starrett’s save squashed their momentum.
“That was probably the most deflating goal that we’ve had scored against us all season, just because of the time (of Fyten’s winning goal),” Komets coach Ben Boudreau said. “You’re resilient and you keep fighting and finding a way to tie it up, and I thought Starrett made an unbelievable point-blank save on Harper to preserve their game. Then they come down and score with 1 minute to go, so it was just a deflating loss for us.”
Starrett stopped 33 of 36 shots as league-worst Wheeling (17-26-6) improved to 6-9-1 against league-leading Fort Wayne (20-9-4).
Guindon stopped 29 of 33 shots, including a flurry of saves early in the third period to set up Jenks’ tying goal as he was all alone in front of the net 12:41 into the third period at WesBanco Arena, where a crowd of 907 was on hand.
Jenks was set up by a dazzling pass from defenseman Nick Boka, who was grinding away in the corner before flicking a no-look backhand pass to his captain. Adams-Moisan’s goal was also delivered by a great pass, as Anthony Nellis feathered the puck past two Wheeling defenders 11:07 into the second period.
“Stuff we’ve been working on has been getting everybody involved in the offense,” Jenks said. “A lot of guys are making some really good plays right now. Fortunately, a good amount of the time they’re ending up as goals for us. We’ve just got to make sure we’re staying on top of that, creating offense and getting everybody involved.”
The Komets’ top-ranked power play has been a big part of their success, and it provided a Marco Roy goal from the right circle 3:40 into the first period, but it gave up two short-handed goals on the same penalty, to Brady Tomlak and Jesse Lees, as Wheeling took a 2-1 first-period lead.
“We got outworked on back-to-back shifts and they scored two goals, which was the difference in the game. So it wasn’t more or less what they did, I thought we beat ourselves tonight,” Boudreau said. “… I just thought there were some mental lapses on the power play. We didn’t play on the right side of the puck and it ended up in the back of our net.”
Wheeling has 12 short-handed goals, second most among the league’s 14 teams, in 49 games. Fort Wayne has allowed five, the fifth fewest in the ECHL, but it’s played 16 fewer games.
“I wouldn’t really point my finger at any one specific (thing),” Jenks said of the two short-handed goals allowed. “I just think it was a little bit of a quick lapse and a bit of a letdown, and they pounced on it and took advantage. We’ve got to be better in that aspect.”
With Fort Wayne’s Justin Vaive serving a boarding penalty, Fyten scored a power-play goal off a rebound for a 3-1 lead 2:39 into the second period.
Wheeling scored on 1 of 3 power plays. Fort Wayne was 1 for 5.
Notes: The Komets are 2-2-0 so far in their six-game stretch of games against the Nailers, who play host to Indy on Wednesday before playing at Memorial Coliseum on Friday. … Adams-Moisan, high-sticked by Patrick McNally to set up the power play that led to Wheeling’s short-handed goals, had to wear a full face shield the rest of the game. … Mason Primeau has been wearing a full shield since taking a puck to the face early in Saturday’s 7-2 victory over Wheeling at Memorial Coliseum. … The Nailers re-signed Tyler Drevitch, who had three goals and five points in 25 earlier games with the team and was a central figure in some heated exchanges with the Komets, including when he refused to leave the ice after warm-ups at the Coliseum. … The Komets played without Blake Siebenaler, Matt Murphy, Jackson Leef, Zach Pochiro (hand) and Dylan Ferguson (hand).