National Hockey League draft choices Stefan Noesen, Rickard Rakell, Mitchell Heard and Stefan Noesen all scored goals and rookie goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 20 shots for his first Ontario Hockey League shutout as the Plymouth Whalers won their eighth straight game, 4-0, over the Sarnia Sting on Saturday night at Compuware Arena.
A near-sellout crowd of 3,429 saw the Whalers improve to 34-16-5-4, good for 77 points and first place in the OHL West. Plymouth is now eight points up on second place Sault Ste. Marie (32-21-3-2, 69 points) and Sarnia (33-25-0-3, 69 points).
The Whalers are 20-5-0-1 since December 27.
Although the Whalers scored four goals, the Plymouth penalty killers shut down Sarnia’s top-rated power play, going five-for-five on the penalty kill. Sarnia’s Reid Boucher – the OHL leader with 57 goals – was not a factor tonight.
Four players scored goals and Nedeljkovic got the shutout, but every Plymouth player in a green jersey worked hard and gave a good effort. 14 of the 18 Plymouth skaters were either +1 or +2 and no skaters had a minus rating.
"We're having a lot of fun," said first-star Rakell. "Everybody on the team is having a really good time right now. Everybody is excited to play in every game."
After Wilson (first round, Washington, 2012) scored his 19th goal in the first period and Rakell (first round, Anaheim, 2011) scored his his 19th in the second, the Whalers put the game away for good when Heard (second round, Colorado, 2012) scored his seventh of the year and Noesen (first round, Ottawa, 2011) his 22nd of the year in the third period.
Nedeljkovic raised his won-loss record to 13-1-1-1 in 19 games, lowered his goals against average to 2.32 and raised his save percentage to 0.925.
Plymouth had a territorial edge in the first period, outshooting Sarnia 11-8. Wilson scored the only goal of the period when he re-directed Austin Levi's shot from the left point past Sarnia goaltender Knicholas Dawe at the hashmarks at 13:19.
Rakell - always strong on the puck - scored in the second period, going forehand from the right circle to his backhand on the left wing and buried the shot past Dawe at 5:27 of the second period to give Plymouth a 2-0 lead.
"I saw the defenseman was looking at the puck and Sebastian Uvira was driving the net, so I tried to get it (the puck) to the other side to create some space," Rakell said of his goal.
Plymouth outshot Sarnia, 13-5, in the second period.
Heard scored from the left circle at 0:59 of the third period, popping the water bottle, and the Whalers led, 3-0. Noesen completed the scoring, working hard through a ton of traffic in the Sarnia blue ice and potted a backhand through is legs after not quitting on the play at 5:38.
'We have four good lines and everybody wants to score goals and be productive," said Rakell. "It's working really well right now. Everybody's having fun, on and off the ice, and it helps a lot."
Plymouth outshot Sarnia, 37-20, in the game.
Plymouth plays in Windsor on Sunday afternoon at 2:05 p.m. at Windsor Family Credit Union Centre (1:50 p.m., www.plymouthwhalers.com).