Game Day: Central Division Battle Sends K-Wings to Wheeling
Wheeling, WV.- The Kalamazoo Wings take a three-game winning streak into Wheeling on Saturday night as they look to gain sole possession of fifth place in the Central Division.
Kalamazoo (21-20-0-2) at Wheeling (20-20-3-1)
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Last Time Out:
Kyle Blaney scored just 0:21 into overtime to push Kalamazoo past Toledo for the second straight meeting, and give the K-Wings their third consecutive victory on Thursday night. Toledo jumped out to a 2-0 lead midway through the middle frame, after a scoreless first, getting goals from TJ Hensick and Tyler Spezia. In the final minute of the period Tanner Sorenson notched his ninth goal, and 20th point of January, to get the K-Wings on the board. Trailing by one heading into the third period the K-Wings, Tyler Ganly knotted the game at 2-2 just over midway through the third. Toledo answered back but Kalamazoo would get a third period goal from Kyle Thomas for the third straight game, sending the game into the extra period. In the overtime it was Thomas coming through for the K-Wings, as he connected with Blaney in front of the net. Blaney quickly tapped the puck past Pat Nagle to give the K-Wings their first lead of the night, and the 4-3 victory.
Scouting the Nailers:
Wheeling heads into a two-game weekend in the midst of a tight Central Division playoff race. Divisional games against Indy and Kalamazoo give the Nailers two games against teams either right behind them or directly in front of them in the standings. The Nailers have been playing .500 hockey at home, going 10-10-1-1 at WesBanco Arena prior to the weekend. Both Kalamazoo and Wheeling are looking to return to the playoffs this season, after missing out last year. A rash of call-ups this season have left the Nailers without some of their top scorers at times this season. Zac Lynch leads the Nailers, averaging over a point per game through the first 44 games of the season. Nick Saracino, who is currently in the AHL with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, has notched 37 points (17g, 20a) in 27 games for the Nailers. Rookie Yushiroh Hirnao has used a strong January to push himself into third among all skaters with 35 points for the Nailers.
Kalamazoo has controlled the season series with the Nailers so far this season, recording four wins in four tries. Kalamazoo won the most recent matchup in come from behind fashion, as Reid Gardiner capped off a hat trick against his former squad with ten seconds left in regulation to give Kalamazoo a 6-5 victory. Gardiner has been at his best against his former squad this season, scoring five times, including the hat trick on Dec. 28. Cam Brown has led the Nailers against Kalamazoo, notching five points, all of which have been assists. Netminder Jake Hildebrand has started three of the four meetings between the teams, winning all three. Kalamazoo and Wheeling will meet three more times after Saturday's meeting.
Penalty Filled Affairs?:
The K-Wings and Nailers have split the difference between games filled with penalty minutes, and those not filled with penalty minutes this season. In two of the first four meetings the teams combined for over 70 penalty minutes, while the Nailers took 69 penalty minutes in the previous meeting alone. The K-Wings are the sixth most penalized team in the ECHL this season (17.12 pim/game) while the Nailers are 11th, averaging 14.84 penalty minutes per game.
Forward Michael Neal is slated to make his season debut for the K-Wings on Saturday night against the Nailers. Neal, who spent the 2017-18 season as the captain of the Indy Fuel, signed with Kalamazoo on Thursday afternoon. The forward spent the 2014-15 season with the K-Wings appearing in 39 games. Neal is coming off a career year where he notched 52 points (20g, 32a).
Thomas Keeps Scoring:
For the third straight game Kyle Thomas scored a late goal for the K-Wings, allowing them to draw even or take the lead. The goal gave Thomas goals in five straight games, and a seven-game point streak. Both of those marks for Thomas notch career highs.
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