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Charlotte Checkers Game Preview

Game Preview: Checkers vs. Chicago (Nov. 7, 2013)

The Checkers (5-4-1) return home on Thursday to face the Chicago Wolves (4-6-1), a team they defeated by a 5-0 score earlier this season.

Charlotte begins its four-game home stand with 11 points, good for third place in the West Division and ninth in the Western Conference. Though its two home games are the fewest of any AHL team, 16 of the team's next 19 games, including tonight's, will be played at Time Warner Cable Arena.

After the Chicago series concludes with a rematch on Saturday, Charlotte welcomes the Hershey Bears on Nov. 13 and 14 before traveling out of country to Toronto.

Charlotte

Game Information

Season Series

  • Oct. 27
    Checkers 5, Chicago 0
  • Nov. 7
    at Charlotte (7 p.m.)
  • Nov. 9
    at Charlotte (7 p.m.)
  • Dec. 29
    at Chicago (5 p.m.)

The Checkers will have a significant change at the top of their lineup as they return home, with rookie center Elias Lindholm, who Carolina chose with the fifth overall pick in the most recent NHL Entry Draft, coming down from the Hurricanes on Wednesday. In his stead, Chris Terry, who is tied with Lindholm's Swedish compatriot Victor Rask for first on the team in scoring with 10 points, heads to Raleigh.

Lindholm, who at 18 will be the youngest player to ever suit up for the Checkers, had two points (1g, 1a) in 10 games with Carolina. He will give a team that struggled with depth at center last week due to an injury to Brody Sutter and the departure of Manny Malhotra to the NHL even more help, as Brett Sutter returned to the team earlier this week. Lindholm can also play wing, as he has done for part of his time with the Hurricanes.

Regardless of who's in the lineup, the Checkers will be hoping to carry over some success from their recent road trip, in which they went 3-2-1 despite playing six games in nine days.

“Everyone goes through it, but that was a really tough week with a lot of travel,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “It caught up to us and we just hit a wall (in a 5-3 loss to San Antonio on Saturday), but even then we were working hard. I thought the trip was real solid.

“Our first two games at home weren’t very good, and we’ve got to establish a presence,” added Daniels, whose team was out-scored by a 10-3 margin in back-to-back losses to the Iowa Wild on Oct. 19 and 20. “We have to be a tough team to play against at home.”

Leading that charge will be Rask, who has four goals in his last three games as part of a line with Zach Boychuk and Justin Shugg that factored for two quick goals in Saturday's loss to the Rampage. Boychuk, who has nine points, defenseman Mark Flood and forward Aaron Palushaj, who have eight apiece, give the team a handful of weapons to help compensate for Terry's scoring, not that Lindholm isn't capable of taking on some of that himself.

In goal, the Checkers have rotated between John Muse and NHL veteran Rick DiPietro in their last four games, with DiPietro getting the team's most recent game on Saturday. Muse (3-0-0) has the better numbers of the two at the moment, though that's also true of any AHL goaltender, as his 1.00 goals-against average and .968 save percentage rank first in the league. His two shutouts are tied for first.

Muse has also been historically sharp against Chicago. Beginning with his Checkers debut on Dec. 16, 2011, he is 2-1-2 with a 1.24 goals-against average, .959 save percentage and two shutouts in five career meetings with the Wolves. DiPietro is also familiar with the franchise, having played 14 games with it during the 2000-01 campaign, his first professional season.

The swap of Lindholm and Terry still leaves the Checkers with 12 healthy forwards, not including Brody Sutter, who is still day-to-day with an injury that has cost him the past two games. The team has seven heathy bodies on defense, with Beau Schmitz sitting out Saturday's game.

Chicago

Team Statistics

 
Record
5-4-1 4-6-1
Standings
9th West 12th West
Goals/Game
3.00 (t-10th) 2.55 (23rd)
GA/Game
2.90 (14th) 3.09 (21st)
Power Play
22.2% (6th) 12.3% (26th)
Penalty Kill
78.3% (25th) 86.0% (5th)
PIM/Game
15.7 (12th) 14.6 (5th)
The Wolves enter Charlotte after splitting a two-game series in Oklahoma City. In game one, their offense exploded by scoring a total of six goals en route to a shutout win, snapping a three-game losing streak. However, they fell short by a 4-2 score in the next day's rematch, giving them just one win in their last five games.

Wolves’ right wing Shane Harper has had the hot stick in recent games, recording a total of three goals, seven points and a +5 plus/minus rating in his last five. Another player Chicago has found recent value in is rookie Ty Rattie, who the parent St. Louis Blues chose with the 32nd overall pick in 2011. The young right wing is tied with Mark Mancari for the team lead in goals scored with four, including three in his last two games.

During a busy offseason, the wolves also added former AHL MVPs Keith Aucoin and Corey Locke, the latter of whom leads the team with nine points.

“They’re a veteran team with a lot of players that have scored a lot of points in the past,” said Daniels, who coached Aucoin as an assistant with the Carolina Hurricanes from 2005-08. “Last time we played them we were really smart with the puck and just played a real good road game.”

The starting goalie for Chicago will more than likely be Jake Allen (2.60 goals-against average, .920 save percentage), who recorded his first shutout of the season with 21 saves on Friday night before giving up four on goals on 33 shots one night later. Backup goalie Matt Climie has played in three total games while still searching for his first win of the year.

Checkers Notes

Back Home

The Checkers, whose two games played at home are the fewest of any AHL team, will correct that discrepancy by playing 16 of their next 19 at home starting tonight and running right up to the holiday break on Dec. 21. Having lost both games at Time Warner Cable Arena, the Checkers are one of just three teams (Portland: 0-4-1; Utica: 0-4-2) that has yet to earn a home victory this season. Dating back to last season's playoffs, the Checkers have lost each of their last four games at home, three of which came by four or more goals.

Meanwhile, the Checkers' eight games played on the road tie them with four other teams for second-most in the AHL. Their 5-2-1 road record to start this season ties them for the second-most road victories in the league.

Youth Movement

Elias Lindholm
Should 2013 fifth-overall draft choice Elias Lindholm make his Checkers debut tonight, he would become the youngest player to ever play for the franchise at 18 years and 340 days. Defenseman Justin Faulk, who debuted with the team following the end of his freshman season in college, had the previous record at 19 years and 40 days, set on April 20, 2011.

Lindhold would also become the second-highest-drafted player to suit up for Charlotte behind Rick DiPietro, the 2000 first-overall draft choice who just made his debut with the team last week. Manny Malhotra (7th overall in 1998), who has since signed with Carolina, gives the team three top-10 picks this season alone, breaking the previous record set by Ryan Murphy (12th overall in 2011) set last March.

Lindholm replaces forward Chris Terry, 24, who headed to Carolina in the same transaction that sent Lindholm to Charlotte. Terry, who is tied with Victor Rask for the team's scoring lead with 10 points and leads the team with six goals, recently saw a career-high, nine-game point streak that included a point in each of the team's first nine games come to an end on Saturday. It was tied for the third-longest streak posted by any AHL player this season.

Muse's Hot Start

Goalie John Muse began his AHL season with a shutout streak of 154:03, breaking Dan Ellis's team record, set one season earlier, by just 59 seconds. The AHL Player of the Week for the period ending Oct. 27 began the streak with back-to-back shutouts at Grand Rapids and Chicago on Oct. 25 and 27, respectively, becoming the second goalie in team history to post consecutive shutouts (Justin Peters in 2012-13).

Since rejoining the team on a professional tryout contract from ECHL Fort Wayne on Oct. 23, Muse began his AHL season with a 3-0-0 record for the third time in as many years. No other Checkers goaltender has ever won his first three starts with the team in any season. Muse leads the AHL with a 1.00 goals-against average and .968 save percentage and is part of a two-way tie for first with two shutouts.

Rask Heats Up

Since scoring his first goal of the season in his fifth game on Oct. 25, center Victor Rask has scored five times in his last six games, including four times during an active three-game goal streak. His two-goal effort in Rockford on Oct. 31 marked the first and only multi-goal game by a Checker this season.

With 10 points (5g, 5a) in 10 games, Rask, a 20-year-old selected by Carolina in the second round of the 2011 draft, has tied Chris Terry for the team lead and is tied for seventh among AHL rookies in scoring. Including five points in 10 games before returning to his junior club in Calgary last season, Rask now has 15 points (6g, 9a) in 20 career AHL games and has posted a cumulative plus-11 rating during that time. His current plus-4 rating leads the team.

Coming In Hot

Through the season's first 10 games, the Checkers have already seen four different players record three-game goal streaks. Chris Terry was the first to do so with three goals in three games from Oct. 19-25, with defenseman Mark Flood (Oct. 20-26: 3g, 1a), winger Aaron Palushaj (Oct. 27-31: 3g, 1a) and center Victor Rask (Oct. 30-Nov. 2: 4g, 1a) following suit. Of the four, only Rask's streak is active.

The last Checkers player to score goals in four consecutive games was Drayson Bowman, who did so as part of a team-record, eight-game streak from Oct. 19-Nov. 4 of last season.

Special Teams

After starting the season with one power-play goal in their first 13 opportunities (7.7 percent), the Checkers scored goals in 11 of 37 chances (29.7 percent) during a six-game run that ended in San Antonio on Saturday. The streak of scoring at least one power-play goal in each of those games marked the third-longest in team history and longest since the team opened last season with man-advantage goals in each of its first eight games. Charlotte's power play ranks sixth in the AHL at 22.2 percent.

After a slow start, the Checkers' penalty kill seemed to have turned a corner by killing 14 in a row over the first three games of its recent road trip, but has since nullified just eight of its last 14 (57.1 percent) and now ranks tied for 25th in the league at 78.3 percent.

Floodgates Open

Mark Flood scored his fifth goal in six games on Oct. 26, becoming the fastest defenseman to reach the five-goal mark in team history. Justin Faulk set the previous record by scoring his fifth goal in his 23rd game last season. No Charlotte blueliner has ever scored more than 10 goals in a single season, a mark set by Bobby Sanguinetti in 2011-12. His streak of goals in four consecutive road games from Oct. 4-26 is still tied for the longest by any AHL player this season.

Flood, who ranks tied with Victor Rask for second on the team in goals behind Chris Terry's six, is tied for second among AHL defensemen in goals and is fourth in power-play goals (three). He has already surpassed his total of one goal from 52 KHL games with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl last season and is nearly halfway to his AHL career high of 11, set with Manitoba during the 2010-11 campaign.

Against the Wolves

Since the Wolves and Checkers first met in the 2011-12 season, Charlotte holds a 6-5-2 record in 13 all-time meetings between the two clubs. The Checkers have earned at least one point in each of the last three meetings (2-0-1), including a 5-0 victory in Chicago on Oct. 27 of this season.

Checkers goaltender Rick DiPietro played for the Wolves, then an IHL club, during his 2000-01 rookie campaign as a New York Islanders prospect. Chicago forward Keith Aucoin is a former Carolina Hurricane who split three seasons between the NHL club and its AHL affiliate at that time, the Albany River Rats, from 2005-08. Aucoin made his NHL debut with the Hurricanes during the 2005-06 campaign.

Quick Hits

  • Rick DiPietro's 38 saves on Saturday were the most by a Checkers goalie since John Muse also made 38 in a shootout loss at Chicago on April 13 of last season.
  • The Checkers' 21 shots allowed in Saturday's third period were one away from tying the most allowed by any AHL team in any period this season
  • Charlotte has scored first in eight of its 10 games this season, including all eight of its road games, and is 5-2-1 in those games. When not scoring first, the Checkers are 0-2-0.
  • The Checkers' 3-2 loss at San Antonio on Saturday marked their first regulation loss of the season when leading at either intermission (up 3-2 heading into the third period).

Player Streaks

  • Victor Rask has points in each of his last four games (Oct. 27-Nov. 2; 4g, 2a) and goals in each of his last three (Oct. 30-Nov. 2; 4g, 1a)
  • Adam Brace has assists and points in each of his last two games (Oct. 31-Nov. 2: 0g, 2a).

Milestones

  • Justin Shugg recorded his 25th AHL/Checkers assist on Saturday
  • Nicolas Blanchard is 2 goals away from 25 Checkers goals
  • Michal Jordan is 3 assists away from 50 AHL/Checkers assists

Transactions

Incoming

  • Nov. 6 - (C) Elias Lindholm assigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
  • Nov. 4 - (C) Brett Sutter assigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)

Outgoing

  • Nov. 6 - (LW) Chris Terry recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
  • Nov. 5 - (LW) Kyle Bonis reassigned to Florida (ECHL) from Charlotte
  • Oct. 31 - (C) Manny Malhotra released from professional tryout contract to sign with Carolina (NHL)
Paul Branecky
Author: Paul BraneckyEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The Checkers' vice president of communications, Paul Branecky has been covering hockey in North Carolina since 2006, including five seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes.