Charlotte Checkers Game Preview

Game Preview: Checkers at Oklahoma City (Jan. 10, 2014)

Amid one of the lighter portions of this season’s schedule, the Checkers resume play with a pair of road games against the Oklahoma City Barons starting tonight.

Tonight’s game will be the Checkers’ first since defeating the Texas Stars at home exactly one week earlier, while the Barons will be playing the middle game of a three-in-three that ends with Saturday’s rematch between these two clubs. Once those games have concluded, Charlotte will have another five days off before starting its own three-in-three set, all at home, against Texas on Friday, Jan. 17.

The Checkers played the Barons on another Friday/Saturday back-to-back to start this season, with Charlotte winning both games by 3-2 scores. The Checkers play their West Division rival 12 times this season, more than any other opponent, including a pair of games in Charlotte just two weeks from now.

Charlotte

Game Information

Season Series

  • Oct. 4
    Checkers 3 at OKC 2
  • Oct. 5
    Checkers 3 at OKC 2
  • Jan. 10
    at Oklahoma City (8 p.m.)
  • Jan. 11
    at Oklahoma City (8 p.m.)
  • Jan. 23
    at Charlotte (7 p.m.)
  • Jan. 24
    at Charlotte (7 p.m.)
  • Feb. 7
    at Charlotte (7:30 p.m.)
  • Feb. 9
    at Charlotte (1:30 p.m.)
  • March 29
    at Charlotte (7 p.m.)
  • March 30
    vs. Oklahoma City (1:30 p.m.)
  • April 5
    at Oklahoma City (8 p.m.)
  • April 6
    at Oklahoma City (5 p.m.)
The Checkers are coming off one of their better wins of the season, a 4-3 victory against the Texas Stars that answered questions about the team’s mental fortitude following a come-from-ahead one night earlier as well as its ability to hang with top teams. With so much time off, they'll hope to retain some of that momentum.

Due to injuries and callups, the team does face some roster questions heading into tonight’s game. Even after getting scoring leader Aaron Palushaj (14 points in his last 11 AHL games) back from the NHL on Wednesday, the team is likely to be short one forward as newcomer Greg Nemisz has been ruled out for the weekend due to an infection suffered after his Checkers debut against Texas.

Options to fill out the lineup include bringing another player up from the ECHL – A.J. Jenks and Matthew Pistilli, who happened be two of the team’s most productive players last week, have already joined the team under similar circumstances – or waiting to see if help may arrive from Carolina. Hurricanes forwards Riley Nash and Jiri Tlusty are both thought to be close to a return, though they’d have to get ready quickly as the team plays in Columbus tonight.

A third scenario would involve the Checkers dressing seven defensemen, as Rasmus Rissanen has been practicing fully with the team for over a week and could be ready to play his first game since suffering an injury in a fight against Rockford on Dec. 10. None of the team’s other injured players – forwards Sean Dolan and Jared Staal and defenseman Danny Biega – will be available.

Update: The Checkers recalled forward Kyle Bonis from ECHL Florida on Friday morning.

The Checkers will likely give both John Muse and Mike Murphy a start in goal, something they can feel quite comfortable with after Murphy turned in his best start of the season with 32 saves in the win over Texas. After a two-month period in which Muse was the only Checkers goalie to win a game, the team’s last two victories have been credited to Anton Khudobin, now the apparent No. 1 option in Carolina, and Murphy.

Oklahoma City

Team Statistics

 
Record
15-18-1 14-17-6
Standings
13th West 11th West
Goals/Game
2.74 (t-20th) 2.78 (t-18th)
GA/Game
3.18 (t-26th) 3.32 (29th)
Power Play
23.2% (4th) 18.9% (11th)
Penalty Kill
79.3% (23rd) 79.1% (24th)
PIM/Game
14.1 (6th) 14.7 (9th)
The Barons weren’t initially supposed to play a three-in-three to start their seven-game home stand this week, but a scheduled Wednesday game against Utica moving to Thursday to due to weather conditions prompted the packed schedule change.

That should work to the advantage of the Checkers, particularly since the Barons went to overtime on Thursday. However, that game, in which Oklahoma City tied the game with four seconds left in regulation and then won 17 seconds into overtime, will give them a kind of momentum that the Checkers will need to be wary of early as they work their way back into game action. The Barons have won three in a row and now sit three points ahead of Charlotte in the Western Conference race.

Anton Lander, the team’s captain and active scoring leader since the parent Edmonton Oilers traded Linus Omark to Buffalo, was a catalyst for the team on Thursday, picking up a trio of assists to give him five points (1g, 4a) in two games since returning from the NHL. Defenseman Brad Hunt, who also came back from Edmonton recently, had a pair of helpers.

Other than Charlotte, the Barons are the only AHL team to have used eight different goaltenders this season, with Richard Bachman leading the way with 17 games played, including a 26-save performance on Thursday. Given the three-in-three, it’s likely that the Checkers will see Bachman and Chet Pickard once each.

Pickard, a first-round pick by Nashville in 2008 who has spent most of his career in the ECHL, is 1-0-0 with a 2.78 goals-against average and.906 save percentage this season. He made 33 saves in a Jan. 3 win at San Antonio in his lone start, with his other two appearances coming in relief of Bachman, who has started eight of the team’s last nine.

As a team, the Barons have the AHL’s 29th-ranked goals-against average at 3.32. Following a stretch in which they allowed four or more goals in four consecutive games, they have limited opponents to three or fewer over the course of their current winning streak.

The Barons have a pair of experienced NHL players on their roster in forward Ben Eager and defenseman Dennis Grebeshkov, as well as former ECHL Checkers Matthew Ford and Steve MacIntyre. Oscar Klefbom, a first-round draft pick in 2011, is on defense, while fellow blueliner Martin Marincin is with the Oilers.

Checkers Notes

Palushaj Picks up the Pace

Prior to making his Hurricanes debut on Sunday, the 67th NHL game of his career, forward Aaron Palushaj scored 14 points (3g, 11a) in his last 11 AHL games. During that time period, in which he registered at least one point in nine of those 11 games, he overtook Zach Boychuk for the team's scoring lead with 28 points in 34 outings (t-20th AHL).

Palushaj also leads the Checkers with 19 assists, which rank tied for 17th in the AHL and are at least six more than any other Charlotte skater. He is also tied with Chris Terry for the team lead with 91 shots on goal.

Offense Picking Up

The Checkers have scored three or more goals in each of their last five games, their longest such streak since doing it for six consecutive games from Oct. 21-Nov. 4 of last season. They are 14-6-0 when scoring at least three goals and 1-12-1 when scoring fewer than three. The Checkers rank tied for 20th in the AHL with an average of 2.74 goals per game.

Power Players

The Checkers, who rank fourth in the AHL with a 23.2 percent success rate on the power play, have scored 38.7 percent of their goals on the power play (36 of 93), which is the highest percentage of any AHL team. However, that percentage has been dropping lately, with 13 of the team's last 16 goals scored at even strength or shorthanded.

For the season, Charlotte's 57 even-strength goals are the fourth-fewest in the league.

Close Calls

Ten of the Checkers' last 14 games have been decided by one goal. The team has a record of 8-2-0 in that time period that began on Dec. 1. The Checkers have not won a game by more than one goal since defeating Milwaukee by a 4-1 score on Nov. 30.

In their first 20 games prior to Dec. 1, the Checkers played just six one-goal games, posting a record of 2-4-1.

Divided Division

In 34 games, the Checkers have played against their own division, the West, just seven times (5-2-0), marking the fewest games that any AHL team has played within its own division. However, six of their next seven will be played against Western teams, with the West counting as the only division that the Checkers have a winning record against.

Against the Barons

The Checkers' 12 games against Oklahoma City tie the most that they have ever played one opponent during a single season (Norfolk in 2010-11). Of Charlotte's remaining 42 games, 10 of those will come against the Barons (23.8 percent).

Not including playoffs (Oklahoma City defeated the Checkers 3-2 in last season's first round), Charlotte holds an all-time record of 11-5-2 against the Barons, including an 8-2-0 mark on the road and a pair of 3-2 victories in Oklahoma City to start the current campaign.

Checkers forwards Matt Marquardt and Philippe Cornet are both former Barons, with Cornet representing them in the 2011-12 All-Star Game. Defenseman Keegan Lowe's father, Kevin Lowe, is a member of the parent Edmonton Oilers' front-office staff, while forward Brody Sutter's father, Duane Sutter, is an Oilers scout.

Barons forwards Matthew Ford and Steve MacIntyre both played for Charlotte during its ECHL era.

Quick Hits

  • Charlotte's three overtime games are the fewest in the league, as is its lone shootout appearance.
  • Prior to Nicolas Blanchard's goal on Friday, the Checkers were one of three AHL teams that had yet to score a shorthanded goal.
  • Six of Nicolas Blanchard's nine points this season have come in his last eight games. He had three points in his first 26.
  • Matt Corrente's plus-7 rating since Dec. 1 leads all Checkers skaters
  • The Checkers are one of three AHL teams to have a losing record at home (8-12-0) and a winning record on the road (7-6-1)
  • Despite not scoring a goal since Dec. 7 (11 games) Mark Flood is tied for third among all AHL defensemen with eight goals and five power-play goals.
  • Charlotte has both scored (33) and allowed (41) more goals in the third period than in any other period.

Player Streaks

  • Chris Terry has points in each of his last three games (Dec. 30-Jan. 3: 2g, 1a)
  • Philippe Cornet has points in each of his last two games (Jan. 2-3: 1g, 2a)
  • A.J. Jenks has assists and points in each of his last two games (Jan. 2-3: 0g, 2a)
  • Justin Shugg has assists and points in each of his last two games (Jan. 2-3: 0g, 2a)

Milestones

  • Nicolas Blanchard earned his 400th penalty minute as a Checker on Jan. 3
  • Greg Nemisz made his Checkers debut picked up his first Checkers assist/point against Texas on Jan. 3

Injuries

  • Sean Dolan - missed 14 games starting Dec. 1
  • Rasmus Rissanen - missed 11 games starting Dec. 10
  • Danny Biega - missed nine games starting Dec. 15
  • Jared Staal - missed one game starting Jan. 3
  • Greg Nemisz - will miss next two games

Transactions

Incoming

  • Jan. 10 - (LW) Kyle Bonis recalled to Charlotte from Florida (ECHL)
  • Jan. 8 - (RW) Aaron Palushaj reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)

Outgoing

  • none
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.