Power play, road record among second-half keys for Wranglers

If the season ended today, the Wranglers would advance to the ECHL Kelly Cup playoffs by virtue of placing seventh in the eight-team National Conference.

But the season doesn’t end today, and Las Vegas (16-18-4, 36 points) must maintain its slim edge over Ontario (14-19-6, 34) in its final 34 regular-season games to qualify for its sixth playoff berth in seven years.

The Wranglers, who lost the first four games of their season-long 10-game trip before this week’s All-Star break, will start the second half of their season with a difficult stretch of games, starting today in Idaho against the National Conference-leading Steelheads (25-10-2, 52).

Las Vegas, 3-12-3 away from home, will play three games in three days against Idaho before wrapping up its trip with three games in four days, Jan. 29 to Feb. 1, at Utah, which is 8-3 this season against the Wranglers.

“Our road record is a huge issue with this hockey club,” Las Vegas coach Ryan Mougenel said. “We’re going to get better on the road in the second half. If we can come together at the right time, we can be a force here (down the stretch).”

Besides their anemic road record, the Wranglers are next-to-last in the league in power-play percentage (13.5, 31 for 229) and have struggled to find consistency — dropping seven straight games in November, winning seven of eight from December to early January, then losing their past four.

Las Vegas also has played short-handed much of the season, with seven players in the American Hockey League at one time and several others on injured reserve.

The Wranglers have five players in the AHL — center Francis Lemieux, defenseman Nick Ross, goalie Billy Sauer and forwards Matt Watkins and Ryan Weston — and three on IR in left wing Mick Lawrence and forwards Andrew Orpik and Justin Bernhardt.

Las Vegas also has lost defenseman Robbie Bina, who left the team to play in Europe a few days before he was scheduled to start in Wednesday’s ECHL All-Star Game in Ontario.

The Wranglers since have signed right wing Alex Bourret, the Atlanta Thrashers’ first-round draft pick in 2005. Bourret has two points in two games for Las Vegas. He will play on a line with team scoring leader Ned Lukacevic (33 points) and All-Star Adam Miller, who tallied two goals and two assists Wednesday for the National Conference in its 10-9 shootout loss to the American Conference.

Miller, second on the Wranglers in scoring, with 32 points, also won the fastest skater event at Tuesday’s skills competition, completing a lap around the ice in 14.287 seconds. “That time’s right up there with guys in the NHL,” Mougenel said.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.

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