After alternating wins and losses through their first six games of the season, the Checkers looked to have bucked the trend last weekend by beating Lehigh Valley on home ice for their second straight victory.
They ultimately fell back into that trend, however, dropping Saturday night’s rematch.
Head Coach Ryan Warsofsky was crystal clear in his takeaways following the loss.
“If we’re going to be a successful team, there’s no nights off and there’s no shifts off,” he said. “That’s how we have to play. We just got taught a lesson that if you show up and go 75 percent, you know what’s going to happen. We’ve got to learn from it, turn the page and get back on Monday.”
Warsofsky stuck to his word, and Monday the team got back to work.
“It’s been hard,” he said of this week’s practices. “We have to understand how we have to play every shift. It starts with practice. We got after it hard on Monday, came down a little bit on Tuesday and then ramped it right back up. These are important practices.”
That increase in work comes with a need for the players to buy in, something that Warsofsky has seen so far this week.
“It’s been good,” he said. “They understand. You can ask every guy in that locker room, it’s not good enough. Whether you’re a first-year guy or this is you’re 10th year pro, we’re not going to tiptoe our way into the season.”
There’s also the strategy aspect of things. With three of their four losses coming in games in which they scored just two goals, the Checkers know that a boost in offense would go far in elevating the team’s play as a whole.
“We’re tweaking some things,” said Warsofsky. “We have to score more goals so we’re working on that throughout the week. We’ll tweak some things as we see them as a staff.”
The forward group has seen its fair share of shuffling so far this season, with Warsofsky looking to find a combination that clicks. In the end, though, it may be about more than just the makeup of the lines.
“They’ve had games where they’ve been really dynamic and shown what they can do, it just has to be more consistent,” he said of the forward group. “That’s kind of been the number one thing, we work for four or five shifts and then we come off the gas for four or five shifts. What you do well, you have to do every single night. That’s one thing we’re stressing.”
The group up front lost what figured to be a key piece in Jamie McGinn when he departed from his PTO Thursday, while veteran Brian Gibbons continues to fill a spot in the Hurricanes’ lineup.
The good news, however, is there could be reinforcements entering soon. After going through cancer treatment all summer, rookie Stelio Mattheos will be making the trip to Cleveland and has “a good chance to play,” while Spencer Smallman has been a full-participant in practice all week for the first time. Although Smallman’s immediate future is still unclear, he has “looked really sharp” and has taken “a step in the right direction” according to Warsofsky.
On the back end, the Checkers have a plethora of options as they are currently carrying eight healthy options heading into the weekend (Fredrik Claesson, who hasn’t practiced all week, is “out for the weekend” but will be re-evaluated after that). The team has rotated through all of them, with only Chase Priskie, Roland McKeown and Gustav Forsling having played in all eight games thus far. Jake Bean and Claesson have both missed games due to injury, while Kyle Wood has played four games, Cavan Fitzgerald and Derek Sheppard have played in three and Alex Lintuniemi has played two.
The volume of defenders has come in handy softening the blow of injuries, and you can expect to continue to see several faces passing through the bottom of the D corps until more dominant performances emerge.
“We’ll tinker with it a little more,” said Warsofsky. “I think we have our group of eight that we think can play in the American League. It’s up to the individual. It’s black and white, if you want it you have to go get it. If you don’t, then your game will show us that. There’s been guys who have really stepped up and there’s guys who need to step up. I think they understand that. It’s a team effort from the coaching staff that we’re showing them and teaching them how they need to play. That’s up to us.”
The Checkers will have their work cut out for them as they look to get on track on the road against a strong Cleveland squad, but Warsofsky has his team up to the challenge.
“There’s high expectations here and we’re not going to lower those expectations,” he said. “The bar was set long before I was here and it’s going to stay up there and keep rising. We’ll get this thing going in the right direction.”