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Charlotte Checkers Game Preview

Game Preview: Checkers at Norfolk (March 4, 2014)

Charlotte Checkers at Norfolk Admirals
The Checkers conclude the second leg of their record road swing when they pay the Admirals another visit in Norfolk.

Tonight’s game, the make-up date for a Jan. 28 postponement, will mark the seventh of eight meetings between the clubs this season and the second in less than two weeks. Last Wednesday, the Checkers missed a chance to clinch the GEICO Challenge Cup, an annual competition awarded to the team with the most points at the conclusion of the season series, with a 3-2 loss. Charlotte currently had an 8-6 points lead, meaning that they could win the cup with a regulation or overtime win tonight.

The road team has won each game in the series thus far, with each of the next two games taking place in Norfolk. Both teams are a perfect 2-0-0 since the last meeting, with Charlotte winning two games in Hershey and Norfolk winning two at home against Manchester.

Charlotte

Game Information

Season Series

After their power play (1-for-7) let them down in their last visit to Norfolk, the Checkers rebounded with back-to-back wins against Hershey over the weekend. Their offense, which produced just 24 shots against a stingy Admirals team last week, came to life with 10 total goals in those next two outings, including three on the man advantage.

Zach Boychuk led the way with four of those goals, including his third hat trick of the season – all of which have come since Jan. 24 – on Sunday. In that same game, defenseman Ryan Murphy scored his first AHL goal and also extended his assist streak to 10 games, marking the longest by an AHL defenseman in five years. His 10-game point streak is one shy of tying the franchise record set by Bobby Sanguinetti two seasons ago.

Goaltender Justin Peters was in net for both games in Hershey, making him 3-1-1 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .933 save percentage with the Checkers this season. Tonight’s contest is the last possible game he can play during the 14-day window opened by his NHL conditioning stint from the Carolina Hurricanes.

With Tuesday being a relatively quiet night around the league, the Checkers could climb to 10th place in the Western Conference - five points behind the eight-place and idle Milwaukee Admirals - with a win tonight. Following tonight’s game, they will just 20 remaining on their schedule.

A third consecutive win tonight would be the Checkers’ longest streak since winning four in a row from Jan. 18-24. They enter tonight’s game with points in five of their last seven games (4-2-1).

Though Peters will get tonight’s start as long as he’s available, John Muse could be ready to return from injury at any time. Justin Shugg, who missed Sunday’s game due to injury, and defenseman Keegan Lowe, who sat out with an illness, could also be available. If Lowe can play, the Checkers may go back to using seven defensemen as they did in Saturday’s 4-1 win against the Bears.

Norfolk

Team Statistics

 
Record
26-26-3 31-17-8
Standings
11th West 5th East
Goals/Game
3.02 (t-11th) 2.66 (21st)
GA/Game
3.24 (28th) 2.48 (2nd)
Power Play
22.3% (2nd) 16.8% (14th)
Penalty Kill
80.4% (22nd) 87.1% (3rd)
PIM/Game
14.5 (9th) 19.6 (21st)
Wednesday’s win over the Checkers and the two subsequent victories against Manchester, the Eastern Conference’s top team, give Norfolk a four-game winning streak, including three to start its six-game home stand. During that time, the Admirals have climbed from eighth to fifth in a tight playoff race in that conference, as they still only have three points of cushion over the cutoff line.

In each game of their four-game streak, the Admirals have allowed two or fewer goals – a stat not necessarily surprising given that they rank second in the AHL with an average of 2.48 goals allowed each game. They are also the league’s third-best penalty killing team at 87.1 percent.

Goaltending has been a major factor in those numbers as the Admirals continue to use a rotation of capable players. Viktor Fasth, who bested Peters in a battle of NHL goalies on conditioning stints last week, returned to the Anaheim Ducks and promptly joined the Edmonton Oilers via trade on Tuesday afternoon. Frederik Anderson, a former Hurricanes draft pick who made 49 saves to beat Carolina two days ago, was orginally listed on the AHL transactions log as having joined Norfolk on Monday, though Fasth's trade led to his staying in Anaheim.
Options for the Admirals tonight are blue chip prospect John Gibson, a rookie who leads the AHL with five shutouts, and veteran Brad Thiessen, a former AHL goaltender of the year who turned in a 49-save performance of his own against the Checkers earlier this season. Fasth started each of the team’s last three games, with Gibson getting the bulk of the action prior to that.

A team that typically wins with defense, the Admirals have averaged over three goals a game during their winning streak. Scoring leader Rickard Rakell, a first-round draft pick in 2011, has led the way with five points during that time (3g, 2a).

Checkers Notes

Against Norfolk

GEICO Challenge Cup
In 34 previous meetings between Charlotte and Norfolk, the Checkers have a record of 18-13-3, including a 4-2-0 mark this season. The home team has won all six match-ups this season.

In the two previous seasons of its existence, each team captured one GEICO Challenge Cup, which is awarded to the team that finishes with the most points at the conclusion of the eight-game season series. Charlotte won with a 5-3-0 record last season but went just 2-5-1 against the Admirals during their Calder Cup season in 2011-12. Charlotte can clinch its second consecutive victory with a regulation or overtime win tonight.

The Checkers and Admirals were formerly East Division rivals in the Checkers' inaugural AHL season in 2010-11, with Norfolk just one of two Eastern Conference teams (Hershey) that the Checkers have played since moving to the Western Conference the following season.

Murphy's Streak

Assists by Checkers Defensemen

Player GP A
Ryan Murphy 15 16
Mark Flood 54 12
Danny Biega 44 11
Michal Jordan 49 10
Since joining the Checkers from the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 24, Ryan Murphy has 17 points (1g, 16a), including his first career AHL goal on March 2, in 15 games. He leads all Charlotte defensemen in assists and has already set a new club record for most by a rookie blueliner in a single campaign (Michal Jordan had 14 in 2010-11).

Murphy has assists in each of his last 10 games (12a), setting a new franchise record for longest assist streak that previously stood at six (Zach Boychuk in 2010) and marking the longest posted by any AHL player since Hershey's Keith Aucoin (14) and Chris Bourque (10) each accomplished the feat during the 2011-12 season. The last time an AHL defenseman recorded assists in 10 or more consecutive games was in 2008-09, when Binghamton rookie Mattias Karlsson put together a 12-game run.

Murphy's 10-game point streak (1g, 12a) is the second-longest active streak in the AHL and is the longest posted by an AHL defenseman all season. It is also the longest posted by a Checkers player this season and is one away from tying Bobby Sanguinetti's franchise record of 11 (Jan. 12-Feb. 12, 2012).

Murphy, the Hurricanes' first-round pick (12th overall) in 2011, now has 21 points in 23 career AHL games dating back to last season, including five Calder Cup Playoff games. Twelve of those points came on the power play.

Hats off to Boychuk

Boychuk Career Goals / Game

2009-10 .29
2010-11 .37
2011-12 .33
2012-13 .47
2013-14 .56
With three third-period goals on March 2, Zach Boychuk recorded his third hat trick of the season and fourth of his career. Three of those hat tricks have come since Jan. 24, while his previous hat trick came almost exactly three years earlier on Jan. 23, 2011. He is responsible for four of six hat tricks in the Checkers' AHL history (Jacob Mikflikier, Brett Sutter).

Boychuk, who set a new career high with his 24th goal of the season on March 1, now ranks fourth in the AHL with 27. He is tied for the league lead with a franchise-record 14 power-play goals.

Now in his fifth professional season, Boychuk is on pace for 38 goals, which would break Chris Terry's team record of 34 set in the 2010-11 season. Terry and Boychuk rank first and second on the Checkers' all-time goals list with 94 and 93, respectively.

Peters Returns

In the four games Justin Peters has played since rejoining the team on a conditioning loan from Carolina, the Checkers' 2.25 goals-against average (excluding a goal allowed for a shootout loss on Feb. 22) is the lowest of any four-game segment since Jan. 23-Feb. 1 (1.75). Prior to Peters' starts, the Checkers had allowed three or more goals in nine consecutive games dating back to Feb. 1.

Including his opening-night start for the Checkers that preceded his recall to Carolina, Peters, a two-time AHL All-Star, has a 3-1-1 record with a 2.17 goals-against average and .933 save percentage this season. He set club records (minimum 20 games) with a 2.29 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and six shutouts last season.

Floodgates Open

Now in his eighth professional season, Mark Flood scored his 13th goal of the campaign against Hershey on March 2, extending his own record for most by a Checkers defenseman in a single season that previously stood at 10 (Bobby Sanguinetti in 2011-12). He has also beaten his career high of 11 set with Manitoba in 2010-11.

Flood, who scored just one goal in 52 games in the Russian KHL last season, ranks second in terms of goals and power-play goals (8) by AHL defensemen.

Sutter Connection

In 58 Checkers games together, cousins Brett and Brody Sutter had never scored in the same game until each found the back of the net one time against Oklahoma City on Feb. 7 - something they also accomplished eight games later with one goal apiece at Hershey on March 1. They had also never recorded points on the same goal until recently, when Brett assisted on Brody's game-tying goal with 38 seconds remaining in regulation on Feb. 9.

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. Zach Boychuk and Chris Terry are tied for the Checkers' lead and for 11th in the AHL with 49 points apiece, while Aaron Palushaj ranks 16th with 47 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 70 points each. Palushaj would fall just short at 64.

On the Road Again

The Checkers' current 10-game road swing (2-2-1) 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 25 road games to date are tied for the fewest of any AHL team, is 12-11-2 on the road this season.

Quick Hits

  • The Checkers have earned points in five of their last seven games (4-2-1).
  • The Checkers have killed 12 consecutive penalties over their last three games. Meanwhile, they scored three power-play goals in the same game for the fifth time this season on March 2 (3-for-6).
  • Prior to picking up a pair of three-goal wins in Hershey on March 1 and 2, the Checkers had not won by three or more goals since defeating Oklahoma City 9-3 on Jan. 24.
  • After missing eight games due to injury, Greg Nemisz picked up an assist on March 2 to give him 11 points (3g, 8a) in 12 games as a Checker.
  • With a goal and an assist on March 1, rookie center Victor Rask recorded his first multi-point game since Nov. 24.
  • Matt Corrente is tied for third among AHL defensemen with 10 major penalties. On Feb. 26, he became the first Checkers defenseman to top 100 penalty minutes in a season since Zack FitzGerald (229) in 2010-11.
  • The Checkers' seven overtime games (4-3) and three shootouts (1-2) are the fewest in the league.
  • The Checkers are 6-4-0 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 10 games (Feb. 7-March 2: 1g, 12a)
  • Brett Sutter has points in each of his last three games (Feb. 26-March 2: 2g, 1a)
  • Chris Terry has assists and points in each of his last three games (Feb. 26-March 2: 1g, 3a)
  • Zach Boychuk has goals and points in each of his last two games (March 1-2: 4g, 0a)
  • Victor Rask has assists and points in each of his last two games (March 1-2: 1g, 2a)
  • Michal Jordan has assists and points in each of his last two games (March 1-2: 0g, 2a)

Milestones

  • Nicolas Blanchard is one shy of 450 AHL games
  • Matt Corrente is one shy of 250 professional games
  • Aaron Palushaj is three shy of 200 professional points
  • Justin Shugg is four shy of 100 professional points
  • Brett Sutter played his 500th professional game on March 2
  • Michal Jordan played his 250th professional game on March 1
  • Matt Marquardt played his 250th AHL game on Feb. 26

Injuries

  • John Muse - missed five games starting Feb. 21
  • Brendan Woods - missed four games starting Feb. 22
  • Justin Shugg - missed one game starting March 2
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.