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Charlotte Checkers Game Preview

Game Preview: Checkers at San Antonio (March 7, 2014)

Charlotte Checkers at San Antonio Rampage
The Checkers’ three-game winning streak is on the line as they begin a three-in-three set in San Antonio tonight.

Just one point separates the West Division rivals heading tonight’s game, the fourth in an eight-game season series that Charlotte leads with a record of 2-1-0. That makes the remaining head-to-head games, four of which will take place in the next 16 days, crucial for each club as they attempt to climb the standings.

Tonight’s game begins the third leg of the Checkers’ franchise-record run of 10 consecutive road games. Their current four-game trip takes them back and forth between San Antonio and Texas, including a rematch with the Rampage on Sunday.

Charlotte

Game Information

Season Series

The Checkers emerged from Wednesday’s trade deadline unscathed in terms of the Carolina Hurricanes having to fill holes created by trades, though they’ll still have some changes from Tuesday’s 3-2 win in Norfolk.

Taking over the starting duties on a team that had allowed three or more goals in each of its nine previous games, goalie Justin Peters went 3-1-1 with a 2.19 goals-against average and .929 save percentage over the course of his NHL conditioning stint that ended Wednesday. Before rejoining the Hurricanes on Thursday, rookie defenseman Ryan Murphy had set or tied several team records by scoring 18 points in 16 AHL games, including an active 11-game assist/point streak.

Charlotte will also be without the services of experienced defenseman Matt Corrente, who will serve a one-game suspension tonight.

Filling the void are goalies John Muse and Mike Murphy, who have not played since Feb. 18 and 21, respectively. Muse is coming off an injury but should be available tonight, though both goalies may have to fight through some rust accumulated while watching Peters.

“Now it’s their turn to step up and lead us,” said coach Jeff Daniels of his current goaltending tandem. “We’ll see which guys are ready to play.”

On defense, rookie Keegan Lowe figures to reassume the regular role he held for the majority of the season until the addition of Murphy in late January pushed him out of the lineup on several occasions. He was not available for the last two games due to illness but should play tonight alongside fellow first-year defenseman Austin Levi, who the Checkers recalled from ECHL Florida on Thursday.

The Checkers’ challenge now will be keeping the momentum built in winning each of their last three games and earning points in six of their last eight (5-2-1) dating back to Feb. 16. They currently rank 10th in the Western Conference with five points to make up in the playoff race.

“Guys are starting to buy in and play the way we need to play,” said center Sean Dolan. “We know we need to get some wins to get into the playoffs.”

San Antonio

Team Statistics

 
Record
27-26-3 24-24-8
Standings
10th West 11th West
Goals/Game
3.02 (t-11th) 2.79 (19th)
GA/Game
3.21 (28th) 3.00 (20th)
Power Play
22.6% (2nd) 16.1% (19th)
Penalty Kill
80.7% (21st) 79.7% (24th)
PIM/Game
14.3 (t-8th) 14.3 (t-8th)
The Rampage also experienced a shakeup since their last game, though theirs was more related to the trade deadline. A significant change in the organization’s goaltending that began with the parent Florida Panthers’ acquisition of Roberto Luongo has seen the Rampage add NHL veteran Scott Clemmensen, who replaces longtime San Antonio netminder Jacob Markstrom.

Clemmensen, 36, has a 3.02 goals-against average and .896 save percentage in 16 NHL games this season. His numbers in two games for the Rampage are very similar (3.50 and .894). Other goalies on the Rampage roster include Michael Houser, who allowed five goals on 31 shots in a Sunday loss to Oklahoma City, and former Checker Rob Madore, who came up from ECHL Cincinnati on Tuesday.

Other recent changes for the Rampage saw scoring leader Vincent Trochek recalled to the NHL for the first time in place of center Drew Shore (21 points in 37 AHL games this season), while a pair of trades brought AHL veteran Mark Mancari (511 points 607 career games) to San Antonio in exchange for defenseman Doug Janik and rugged forward Eric Selleck.

Having only recently joined the team when it last played the Checkers, Ryan Whitney and Matt Gilroy continue to provide significant NHL experience on defense, as does Greg Zanon, who recently returned after suffering a significant injury just two games into the season. Former Checkers center Jon Matsumoto has been out due to injury since Jan. 7.

“They’re a team we’ve liked all along,” said Daniels. “They’ve got the depth with four lines and a real experienced back end with veteran players back there.”

Since last facing the Checkers in December (a pair of victories for Charlotte at Time Warner Cable Arena), the Rampage, led by former Hurricanes assistant coach Tom Rowe, have been able to climb back into the playoff picture after hovering near the bottom of the standings for much of the season. Though they enter tonight’s game having won just one of their last four, not including a 2-0 deficit they faced in an attempted March 1 game against Texas, their most recent at home that was suspended due to poor ice conditions, they had won six straight, all on the road, prior to that.

“Tom’s got them playing well and they’re coming of a real good stretch kind of the same as the one we’re on where they’ve been on the road for what seemed like a whole month,” said Daniels. “They’ve battled back into the race and we know going in that it’s going to be two teams fighting for the same goal to get into the playoffs.”

Checkers Notes

Against San Antonio

The Checkers have an all-time record of 9-6-0 against the Rampage since joining the Western Conference prior to the 2011-12 season, including a 2-1-0 mark this season. Charlotte has won each of the last two, while the home team has won all three meetings thus far. The teams will play five more times this season, four of which are scheduled to take place in the next 16 days.

The Checkers and Rampage have been involved in a player transaction in each of the last three seasons, including a Nov. 22 trade that saw Charlotte acquire Philippe Cornet in exchange for Adam Brace. Since joining the Checkers, Cornet has 21 points (11g, 10a) in 40 games, including five (4g, 1a) in his last five.

Winning Streak

A Checkers win tonight would tie their longest winning streak this season (four games), a mark set twice previously (Dec. 10-19 and Jan. 18-31). It would set a new season high for longest road winning streak, with the team winning three in a row once previously on Oct. 4-25.

Hats off to Boychuk

Boychuk Career Goals / Game

2009-10 .29
2010-11 .37
2011-12 .33
2012-13 .47
2013-14 .55
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 95 and 93, respectively.

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 10th in the AHL with 50 points apiece, while Aaron Palushaj ranks 16th with 48 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 hit that mark exactly.

Power Players

The Checkers currently rank second in the AHL with a 22.6 percent success rate on the power play, including a 50 percent success rate (4-for-8) in their last two games. Charlotte has at least one power-play goal in eight of its last 10 games dating back to Feb. 9 (11-for-39: 28.2 percent).

In Zach Boychuk (t-1st with 14) and Chris Terry (t-8th with 10), the Checkers have two of the AHL's top nine in terms of power-play goals this season. Boychuk has already broken the single-season franchise record of 12 previously set by Jacob Micflikier in the 2010-11 campaign. Meanwhile, Mark Flood's seven power-play goals are tied for second among AHL defensemen and are tied for the most by a Checkers blueliner in a single season (Bobby Sanguinetti in 2011-12).

On the Road Again

The Checkers' current 10-game road swing (3-2-1) 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 26 road games to date are tied for the third-fewest of any AHL team, is 13-11-2 on the road this season.

Three-in-Threes

The Checkers play three games in three nights for the fourth time this season beginning tonight. Following this set, they will have just one three-in-three set remaining on April 4-6.

The team is 5-3-1 in games that are part of a three-in-three this season, including a 2-1-0 record in game one, a 1-1-1 record in game two and a 2-1-0 record in game three. All-time, the Checkers are 15-8-3 in game one, 16-5-5 in game two and 13-12-1 in game three over the course of their four AHL seasons.

Quick Hits

  • The Checkers have earned points in six of their last eight games (5-2-1).
  • The Checkers have killed 13 consecutive penalties over their last four games.
  • 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 11-8-2 against West Division opponents this season.
  • Charlotte's two shorthanded goals are tied with Adirondack for the fewest in the league

Player Streaks

  • Brett Sutter has points in each of his last four games (Feb. 26-March 4: 2g, 2a)
  • Chris Terry has points in each of his last four games (Feb. 26-March 4: 2g, 3a)
  • Zach Boychuk has points in each of his last three games (March 1-4: 4g, 1a)
  • Michal Jordan has assists and points in each of his last three games (March 1-4: 0g, 3a)
  • Aaron Palushaj has assists and points in each of his last two games (March 2-4: 0g, 4a)
  • Sean Dolan has points in each of his last two games (March 2-4: 1g, 2a)
  • Philippe Cornet has goals and points in each of his last two games (March 2-4: 2g, 0a)
  • Mark Flood has assists and points in each of his last two games (March 2-4: 0g, 2a)

Milestones

  • Aaron Palushaj is two shy of 200 professional points
  • Brett Sutter is three shy of 450 AHL games
  • Michal Jordan is three shy of 250 AHL games
  • Justin Shugg is four shy of 100 professional points
  • Aaron Palushaj is four shy of 250 AHL games
  • Sean Dolan recorded his 50th professional point on March 4
  • Nicolas Blanchard played his 450th AHL game on March 4
  • Jared Staal played his 150th AHL game on March 4
  • Matt Corrente played his 250th professional game on March 4
  • Brett Sutter played his 500th professional game on March 2

Injuries

  • Brendan Woods - missed five games starting Feb. 22