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Charlotte Checkers Game Preview

Game Preview: Checkers at Hershey (March 1, 2014)

The Checkers will be desperate for the first victory of their 10-game road swing when they play its fourth game in Hershey tonight.

Charlotte is 0-2-1 to start the longest stretch of consecutive away games in franchise history, including a 3-2 loss in Norfolk on Wednesday that extended their overall road winless streak to five games, tying the longest active streak in the AHL. The Checkers enter tonight’s game, the first of a back-to-back set against the Bears, nine points out of a playoff spot with 23 games left to play.

Including an 8-1 victory that is still the largest defeat the Checkers have suffered this season in terms of goal differential, Hershey won both prior meetings this season. Sunday’s 4 p.m. rematch concludes the season series.

Charlotte

Game Information

Season Series

The Checkers, relatively satisfied with a 2-1-1 stretch of games that preceded it, suffered a setback in Wednesday’s loss to Norfolk. Philippe Cornet’s goal to give them the lead less than two minutes in that game proved to be something of an abnormality with the teams taking just 24 shots each in a tightly-played game.

Despite trailing 3-1 with five minutes left, the Checkers had a real chance to tie it when they received a four-minute power play. Brett Sutter was able to claw one back as a Chris Terry shot deflected off of him and into the net, but the other half came up empty. That would have been easier to stomach if the team, which has the AHL’s fourth-ranked power play at 21.8 percent, had not gone 1-for-7 on the night including several poor showings earlier in the game.

Though they’ll have plenty of travel days and days away from home for the next few weeks, the Checkers actually have an advantage over Hershey this weekend. The Bears will be playing three games in three nights this weekend, starting with Friday’s 2-1 shootout loss in Hartford.

The Checkers have so far been unable to take advantage of the addition of Justin Peters, who has started the last two games (0-1-1) and is expected to start the next three until his 14-day conditioning stint from the Carolina Hurricanes comes to an end. In three AHL games this season, including his recent two and Charlotte’s first game of the season on Oct. 4, Peters has a 2.28 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.

Peters is one of three goaltenders on the trip including Mike Murphy and John Muse, the latter of whom is recovering from an injury suffered Feb. 26 and could be available to play as soon as this weekend. The same is true of forward Greg Nemisz, who has missed the last seven games due to injury.

With the Checkers carrying seven defensemen, veteran Matt Corrente and rookie Keegan Lowe have taken turns sitting out the Checkers’ last three games. Corrente played Wednesday’s game in Norfolk and fought for the third consecutive outing.

Hershey

Team Statistics

 
Record
24-26-3 29-19-7
Standings
14th West 7th East
Goals/Game
2.94 (t-14th) 3.07 (9th)
GA/Game
3.28 (28th) 2.85 (15th)
Power Play
21.8% (4th) 16.3% (t-18th)
Penalty Kill
79.5% (t-23rd) 83.7% (10th)
PIM/Game
14.6 (9th) 19.8 (22nd)
Friday’s loss in Hartford marked the fourth in a row for the Bears, who, along with the Checkers previous opponent in Norfolk, are in a tight battle for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference. Hershey enters tonight’s game as the seventh seed, though they are actually in a three-way points tie with eight-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and ninth-place Providence.

The Bears had won five in a row prior to their four-game winless streak (0-3-1), an overall stretch of hockey that mirrors some that the Checkers have experienced this season. Friday’s loss, in which goalie David Leggio stopped 34 of 35 shots, marked the first time they had allowed fewer than five goals over the course of their winless streak. The only goal they allowed on Friday came on a five-on-three power play for Hartford.

Each of Hershey’s last three losses have been on the road – notable given that they are 15-3-0 in their last 18 home games.

Leggio started each of the Checkers’ last two games, making it likely that Philipp Grubauer, who started six of the previous seven, goes tonight. Grubauer, who enjoyed a run as the Washington Capitals’ starter in December and January similar to that of Peters in Carolina, has the better numbers of the two with a 2.59 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. Each goaltender picked up one victory in the Bears’ last visit to Charlotte.

Leggio has something of a Carolina connection, having attended the Hurricanes’ rookie camp several years ago. Defenseman Tyson Strachan is a former Carolina draft pick (fifth round in 2003), while fellow blueliner Julien Brouillette is one of six players to have played for the Checkers at both the ECHL and AHL levels.

Since last facing the Checkers in November, defensemen Dmitry Orlov and Connor Carrick have more or less become regulars in Washington. Two of Hershey’s current top five scorers in Nicolas Deschamps (29 points in 47 games), who made his NHL debut on Thursday, and Casey Wellman (28 points in 44 games), are also with the Capitals.

Checkers Notes

Against Hershey

Tonight's game will mark the third of four meetings between the two clubs this season. Charlotte holds an all-time record of 4-7-3 record against the Bears, including a 2-3-1 mark in Hershey and an 0-2-0 record this season. The Checkers' 8-1 loss in the last meeting on Nov. 14 - the fifth game in Charlotte's franchise-record, seven-game run of regulation losses - tied franchise records for largest defeat and most goals allowed.

Hershey is one of four teams the Checkers have ever faced in the playoffs, with Charlotte picking up a 4-2 series victory in the 2011 East Division Semifinals. Along with the Norfolk Admirals, Hershey is one of just two Eastern Conference teams that the Checkers have faced since moving to the Western Conference prior to the 2011-12 campaign.

Murphy's Helping Hand

Assists by Checkers Defensemen

Player GP A
Ryan Murphy 13 14
Mark Flood 52 12
Danny Biega 42 10
Michal Jordan 47 8
Since joining the Checkers from the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 24, Ryan Murphy has 14 points, all assists, in 13 games, including two assists in his last game that allowed him to pass Mark Flood for most by a Checkers defenseman all season. He has already tied Michal Jordan's club record for most assists by a rookie defenseman in a single season (2010-11).

Murphy has assists in each of his last eight games (10a), setting a new franchise record for longest assist streak that previously stood at six (Zach Boychuk in 2010). Murphy's streak ties Rochester's Phil Varone (Oct. 4-Nov. 1) for the longest posted by an AHL player this season.

Murphy's point streak ties the third-longest active streak in the AHL and is one shy of tying the longest posted by an AHL defenseman this season, a mark set by Hartford's Aaron Johnson (Oct. 18-Nov. 8). It is also one shy of tying Chris Terry for longest posted by a Checker this season (Oct. 4-31). Charlotte's record for longest point streak is held by defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti (11 games: Jan. 12-Feb. 12, 2012).

Murphy, the Hurricanes' first-round pick (12th overall) in 2011, now has 18 assists in 21 career AHL games dating back to last season, including five Calder Cup Playoff games. Eleven of those assists came on the power play.

Floodgates Open

Now in his eighth professional season, Mark Flood scored his 12th goal of the campaign against Texas on Feb. 22 to top his career high set with Manitoba in 2010-11. The 29-year-old had already set a new team record for most goals by a defenseman in a single season by netting his 11th in 46 games to break Bobby Sanguinetti's record from 2011-12.

Flood, who scored just one goal in 52 games in the Russian KHL last season, ranks second in terms of goals by AHL defensemen and is tied for second among league blueliners with seven power-play goals.

On the Road Again

The Checkers' current 10-game road swing (0-2-1) is the longest in the team's four AHL seasons, narrowly eclipsing a pair of nine-game segments from Oct. 28-Nov. 13, 2011 (5-4-0), and from Oct. 13-31, 2012 (6-2-1).

Charlotte, whose 23 road games to date are the fewest of any AHL team, is 10-11-2 on the road this season. Its current five-game winless streak on the road (0-4-1 since Feb. 4) ties the longest active streak in the league and is one short of the franchise record set from Feb. 18-March 25, 2012.

The Big Three

Along with Texas (four), the Checkers are one of two teams to feature three or more players among the AHL's top 20 scorers. Chris Terry leads the Checkers and ranks 14th in the league with 46 points, Zach Boychuk is tied for 15th with 45 points and Aaron Palushaj is tied for 17th with 44 points.

All three players have held sole possesion of the Checkers' scoring lead at one point this season and are on pace for their best scoring seasons at the AHL level. At their current pace, Boychuk and Terry would break Boychuk's team record of 65 points set in the 2010-11 season with 68 and 67, respectively, while Palushaj would fall just short at 63.

Working Overtime

Though three of the Checkers' last seven games have gone to overtime, their seven overtime games this season are still the fewest of any AHL team. Charlotte is 4-3 in overtime games this season, including a 3-1 record in the five-minute period and a 1-2 record in the shootout.

By scoring seven times on 16 shootout opportunities this season, the Checkers, who have been to a league-low three shootouts, have the second-best conversion rate in the league at 43.8 percent. However, their identical 43.8 save percentage is also the league's second-lowest.

Quick Hits

  • Since the calendar turned to 2014, the Checkers have played consecutive games against the same opponent nine times. Charlotte is 2-7-0 in the first half of those sets and 6-1-2 in the second.
  • Zach Boychuk's 23 goals, which tie his career high, are tied for sixth in the AHL. Boychuk ranks second with 13 power-play goals, which are a new record for most by a Checkers player in a single season.
  • Brody Sutter's plus-7 rating is at least six points better than any other player who has spent the entire season with Charlotte.
  • Matt Corrente is tied for third among AHL defensemen with 10 major penalties. He has penalty minutes in five consecutive games, which ties the third-longest active streak in the league.
  • Though the Checkers have been shut out just once this season, they have scored just one goal on 12 separate occasions.
  • The Checkers are 4-4-0 against Eastern Conference teams this season.
  • Charlotte's two shorthanded goals are tied with Adirondack for the fewest in the league

Player Streaks

  • Ryan Murphy has assists and points in each of his last eight games (Feb. 7-26: 0g, 10a)
  • Philippe Cornet has goals and points in each of his last two games (Feb. 22-26; 2g, 0a)

Milestones

  • Michal Jordan is one shy of 250 professional games
  • Brett Sutter is two shy of 500 professional games
  • Nicolas Blanchard is three shy of 450 AHL games
  • Matt Corrente is three shy of 250 professional games
  • Justin Shugg is four shy of 100 professional points
  • Matt Marquardt played his 250th AHL game on Feb. 26

Injuries

  • Greg Nemisz - missed seven games starting Feb. 9
  • John Muse - missed three games starting Feb. 21
  • Brendan Woods - missed two games starting Feb. 22
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.