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Charlotte Checkers Game Preview

Game Preview: Checkers vs. San Antonio (March 21, 2014)

Charlotte Checkers at San Antonio Rampage
After two straight losses, the Checkers hope to get their push for the playoffs back on track as they host the first of two games against the San Antonio Rampage.

Since losing the season’s first meeting with their West Division rival on March 2, the Checkers have won four in a row against San Antonio, including a pair of road games just two weeks ago. Including tonight’s game and a rematch on Sunday, the teams will play three more times.

The Checkers are currently 10th in the Western Conference and four points out of a playoff spot, while the Rampage rank 15th and face a 10-point gap.

Charlotte

Game Information

Season Series

Since winning seven of eight games to begin the month of March, the Checkers dropped a home game against Lake Erie on Sunday and a road game in Norfolk on Wednesday. They were agonizingly close to at least earning at least one precious point in the standings in both games, as they allowed the opposition to score the winning goal with less than five minutes remaining in regulation both times.

Conceding the winner with 1:58 left in Norfolk was made even tougher when what would have been a dramatic goal to tie the game with 19 seconds remaining did not count. Zach Boychuk and the Admirals’ Dave Steckel earned coincidental penalties for a tussle away from the play just as Brody Sutter’s shot went into the net.

Daniels, who felt that was the right call at the time, was more frustrated by his team's play throughout the game.

"We beat ourselves," he said. "Some of the mistakes we made just can’t happen this time of year at all, and we made them that game."

The losses did not change the Checkers’ position in the standings as their main rivals for remaining playoff positions did not play during that time. However, they also missed a chance to be in eighth place as early as this morning, having lost their two games in hand on Rockford and Oklahoma City.

The Checkers continued to be led by their high-end players on Wednesday, with Chris Terry, who played an NHL game in Columbus the night before, extending his AHL goal streak to four games. Brett Sutter had two points, giving him 24 in his last 24 since late January. The team’s other goal came courtesy of fourth-line winger Matt Marquardt, who has an active three-game point streak.

Mike Murphy, who put forth a dazzling 40-save effort in Sunday’s loss, could get a chance to earn what’s been a rare victory despite his solid play of late. John Muse’s five-game win streak came to an end in Norfolk, where he made 23 saves on 26 shots.

With forwards Greg Nemisz and Brendan Woods injured, the only potential lineup change would be the insertion of defenseman Dennis Robertson, who joined the Checkers after signing his first professional contract with the Hurricanes on Thursday. Robertson, a 22-year-old acquired from Toronto in the Hurricanes’ trade involving Tim Gleason and John-Michael Liles, recently completed a four-year career at Brown University.

Update: Muse will start and Robinson will sit out as a healthy scratch.

"We’ll just see where he’s at," said Daniels of the rookie blueliner. "Right now he’s the seventh guy just based on the numbers we have. He’s been off for a bit so we’ll get him back up to speed as far as feeling the puck and that kind of stuff. I told him today that there’s no promises as far as what’s going to happen but he’s got to prepare every day like he’s ready to play."

San Antonio

Team Statistics

 
Record
31-29-3 25-28-9
Standings
10th West 15th West
Goals/Game
3.03 (10th) 2.74 (20th)
GA/Game
3.19 (27th) 3.05 (23rd)
Power Play
21.5% (4th) 16.9% (t-15th)
Penalty Kill
80.6% (21st) 79.4% (28th)
PIM/Game
14.0 (8th) 14.1 (9th)
Not that anyone needed a reminder of how quickly things can change this time of year, the Rampage have done just that. On a roll and trailing the Checkers by just one point at the time of their head-to-head meeting on March 7, a shootout win for Charlotte, the Rampage have lost five of six games since to fall to the Western Conference basement.

That slide hasn’t mathematically eliminated the Rampage of yet, although they’ll need to pull off a miracle finish by more or less running the table the rest of the way, a quest that will start against one of the teams they’re chasing this weekend.

The Rampage roster has undergone a number of recent changes as the parent Florida Panthers, also well outside the playoff picture, have begun to give players a look for next season. San Antonio scoring leader Vincent Trochek, one of the AHL’s top rookies this season, has been in the NHL since March 5. Joining him since the Rampage lest met the Checkers on March 9 are forwards Quinton Howden, Joey Crabb and Garrett Wilson, who rank fifth, sixth and seventh on the team in scoring, respectively.

Despite those departures, the Rampage do have a remaining core of veteran players including former AHL All-Stars Bobby Butler and Mark Mancari up front as well as one of the most experienced defensive units in the league that includes NHL veterans Matt Gilroy, Mike Mottau, Ryan Whitney and Greg Zanon.

San Antonio also has experience in goal, where 14-year veteran Scott Clemmensen has started four of the last five games over rookie Michael Houser. Clemmensen, who spent most of the year as the Panthers’ backup, has a 3.53 goals-against average and a .888 save percentage at the AHL level this season.

"You’ve got a lot of NHL experience there," said Daniels. "Even though they’re giving those young kids a chance to play up top, we’ve got to be ready to play against a team that always plays hard."

Checkers Notes

Against San Antonio

After losing their first meeting against San Antonio this season on Nov. 2, the Checkers won each of the next four to improve to 11-6-0 against the Rampage since joining the Western Conference prior to the 2011-12 season. The clubs play three more times this season, including this weekend's game on Friday and Sunday and a match-up in San Antonio on April 4.

Zach Boychuk (1g, 7a) and Aaron Palushaj (2g, 6a) lead the Checkers with eight points in the previous five meetings with San Antonio. Chris Terry (five points in five games) and Sean Dolan (four points in three games) are also above a point-per-game in the season series. Wade Megan (three points in two games) is the only San Antonio skater at that mark.

John Muse is 4-0-0 with a 2.45 goals-against average and .923 save percentage against the Rampage this season, with Mike Murphy yet to face them. The Checkers are killing penalties at just a 56.3 percent rate (7-for-16) against San Antonio.

Playoff Picture

Western Conference Standings

  Team GP PTS
6. Milwaukee 61 70
7. Rochester 62 70
8. Rockford 63 69
9. OKC 63 66
10. Charlotte 63 65
11. Utica 61 61
12. Iowa 61 60
Despite losing each of their last two games, the Checkers remain in 10th place in the Western Conference, though they no longer have games in hand on eighth-place Rockford and ninth-place Oklahoma City. With 13 games to play, the Checkers trail Rockford by four points and trail Oklahoma City by one point.

Of the Checkers' remaining games, five will be be played against the two teams immediately ahead of them (one against Rockford and four against Oklahoma City). Five more will be played against teams below them in the Western Conference standings (two against 12-seed Iowa and three against 15-seed San Antonio).

Terry Streaks

Chris Terry has goals in four straight games, marking the second time a Checkers skater has accomplished that feat this season (Zach Boychuk from Dec. 12-20) and the second time he has done so in his career (Feb. 19-24, 2011). It is the longest active streak in the AHL and one shy of the longest streak posted in the league at any time this season.

No Checkers player has scored goals in five or more consecutive games since Drayson Bowman set the franchise record with eight from Oct. 19-Nov. 4 of last season.

Murphy's Law

Despite making 40 saves, one shy of his season high, Mike Murphy lost for the sixth time in his last seven decisions by way of a 3-2 defeat against Lake Erie on March 16. Murphy has received three total goals of support in his last three starts, all losses, while partner John Muse has gone 5-1-0 while receiving three or more goals of support in each of his last six starts.

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 is tied for sixth in the AHL with 57 points, Zach Boychuk is tied for eighth in the league with 56 and Aaron Palushaj ranks 11th with 55.

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, all three players would break Boychuk's team record of 65 points set in 2010-11, with Terry on pace for 70, Boychuk on pace for 69 and Palushaj headed for 66.

Sutter Moving Up

Checkers All-Time Points Leaders

Chris Terry 239
Zach Boychuk 208
Brett Sutter 136
Zac Dalpe 131
Jerome Samson 109
While scoring 24 points (10g, 14a) in his last 24 games dating back to Jan. 23, Checkers captain Brett Sutter passed Zac Dalpe for the third-most points in the Checkers' AHL history (136 in 242 games). Only Chris Terry (240) and Zach Boychuk (208) have more.

Sutter, who played his 500th professional game on March 2, has averaged 0.72 points per game in his last two seasons with the Checkers compared to 0.33 points per game in his first five AHL campaigns with Quad City, Abbotsford and Charlotte. Despite missing 14 games while on NHL duty with Carolina this season, he ranks fourth on the Checkers in scoring with 38 points (12g, 26a) in 49 games.

Sutter has points in each of his last five games (4g, 4a), marking the second-longest streak of his career. He scored eight points (5g, 3a) over a six-game stretch last season.

Power Players

Checkers Power Play by Season

2010-11 21.0% (3rd)
2011-12 19.8% (4th)
2012-13 20.2% (5th)
2013-14 21.5% (4th)
In Zach Boychuk (t-2nd with 14) and Chris Terry (t-8th with 11), 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 third among AHL defensemen and for the most by a Checkers blueliner in a single season (Bobby Sanguinetti in 2011-12).

The Checkers currently rank fourth in the AHL with a 21.5 percent success rate on the power play.

Quick Hits

  • Zach Boychuk's 28 goals are the fourth-most in the AHL and the third-highest total in the Checkers' AHL history (Jacob Mikflikier had 29 and Chris Terry had 34 in 2010-11).
  • The Checkers have killed 19 of 20 penalties since March 12.
  • Aaron Palushaj's 20th goal of the season on March 9 was also his sixth-game winner, putting him into a five-way tie for the AHL lead. He is two points shy of tying his AHL career high of 57 set two seasons ago with Hamilton.
  • Mark Flood ranks second among AHL defensemen with 12 goals. That sets a career high and is the most ever by a Charlotte defenseman in a single season.
  • The Checkers' eight overtime games (5-3) and four shootouts (2-2) are the fewest in the league.
  • By scoring their third shorthanded goal of the season on March 16, the Checkers broke a tie with Adirondack for the fewest in the AHL. They have never scored fewer than six in a single season.
  • The Checkers have three defensemen (Danny Biega, Mark Flood and Michal Jordan) with fewer than 15 penalty minutes. The other three (Matt Corrente, Keegan Lowe and Rasmus Rissanen) have at least 50 apiece and 247 combined.

Player Streaks

  • Brett Sutter has points in each of his last five games (March 9-19: 4g, 4a)
  • Chris Terry has points in each of his last five games (March 9-19: 4g, 2a) and goals in each of his last four (March 12-19: 4g, 1a)
  • Matt Marquardt has assists and points in each of his last three games (March 15-19: 1g, 2a)

Milestones

  • Justin Shugg is one shy of 100 professional points
  • Philippe Cornet is three shy of 250 professional games
  • Zach Boychuk is five shy of 250 AHL points
  • Nicolas Blanchard is nine shy of 800 AHL penalty minutes
  • Aaron Palushaj recorded his 200 AHL penalty minute on March 19
  • Brett Sutter recorded his 200th professional point on March 16

Injuries

  • Greg Nemisz - missed seven games starting March 8
  • Brendan Woods - missed 13 games starting Feb. 22

Transactions

Incoming

  • March 20 - (D) Dennis Robertson (Brown University) signed with Carolina (NHL) and assigned to Charlotte
  • March 19 - (LW) Chris Terry reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)

Outgoing

  • March 17 - (D) Austin Levi reassigned from Charlotte to Florida (ECHL)