The Wild’s top weapons came out firing in the first. After tilting the ice their way for much of the beginning of regulation, the Wild broke through midway through the frame thanks to Teemu Pulkkinen jumping on a turnover and blasting one through Alex Nedeljkovic. Iowa’s top goal scorer cashed in again later in the frame, ripping his signature one timer from the left circle on a Wild power play to double the advantage, then it was Alex Tuch and Gustav Olofsson popping in goals of their own at the end of the first and start of the second to blow things wide open and give the visitors a 4-0 lead.
Things tightened up in the middle frame, but the Checkers found a spark as the finally found the back of the net courtesy of Roland McKeown’s first pro goal, a rocket of a slap shot that ricocheted off the crossbar.
But the Checkers weren’t able to build off that, and the Wild added one final tally to clinch their 5-1 blowout victory.
In the end, despite their struggle to create offense, it was that first-period onslaught by Iowa that did the damage.
“They were able to capitalize on our mistakes,” said Trevor Carrick. “We kind of came out flat, but we knew they were going to be doing that so that’s on us. When you have the start we did today the confidence is kind of low. It’s hard to close that gap and climb your way back. We weren’t able to capitalize on the chances we had in the second and third.”
After getting his fourth start in a row following last night’s win, Alex Nedeljkovic saw the brunt of the Wild’s attack, surrendering three goals on eight shots during the opening period. That would spell the end of the rookie’s night.
“It’s a little bit of a schedule concern and rest for the future and a little bit of performance mixed together in that decision,” said Samuelsson.
In relief came Daniel Altshuller, making his first appearance for the Checkers this season after thriving for the Florida Everblades. The third-year pro was tested early, allowing a power-play goal on the first shot he faced, but settled into the situation, and made several key saves through the rest of regulation.
“He was faced with some tough saves and it’s good to see that we have that quality of a goaltender there as well,” said Samuelsson.
Charlotte’s penalty kill, which ranked as one of the league’s best early on this season, has fallen into a rut, allowing another three power-play strikes tonight to further sink their falling percentage.
“It’s a little bit disjointed right now,” said Samuelsson of his penalty-kill unit. “We’ve got a couple of days to work on it and try to get back to the form we had earlier.”
Playing from behind is inherently tougher than playing with a lead, but the Checkers have especially seen a drop-off in play when falling behind.
“When you have some success you have some extra energy and some added self confidence,” said Samuelsson. “You seem to play better when you’re having success.”
The Checkers may have lost a big piece on their back end tonight, as rookie blue liner Haydn Fleury exited the contest in the second period after crashing into the end boards. He exited the game and did not return, and there wasn’t an immediate outlook on his status.
“He’s going to go see the doctors tomorrow and we’ll know a little more then,” said Samuelsson.
Fleury would join an injured list that already includes forwards Connor Brickley, Patrick Dwyer and Brendan Woods, none of whom are expected back for the team’s next game. Brickley was briefly hospitalized following a fight on Saturday night but was able to attend Sunday’s game.
There’s no break in sight for the Checkers, as they will quickly head out on their annual California road trip, a particularly brutal stretch for a team that has struggled on the road, and one that has even more significance given this up-and-down home stand.
“It’s to get back to playing hockey the way we play hockey and not the way we played today,” said Samuelsson of the key to rebounding from this loss. “We got down 3-0, didn’t have any energy and we tried to complicate the game to a level where we’re not capable of playing.”
“In this league there’s not a whole lot of time to dwell on anything,” said Carrick. “You’re back at it the next day and have to get over it as soon as the game’s over. A huge road trip, a 12-dayer heading out west, and it’s going to be huge for us to steal a few games out there. We’ve been playing pretty good at home, so when we’re in our own barn I think we’ll be alright, but in those road games we’ve got to find a way to win.”