In his third game since signing a professional tryout with the Checkers two weeks ago, starting netminder Rick DiPietro gave up five goals on 15 shots en route to a second-period exit as the Hershey Bears defeated the Checkers by a 5-3 score at Time Warner Cable Arena on Wednesday. Charlotte has now lost four consecutive games, including all five of its home games, to drop to 5-7-1 on the season.
Michal Jordan, Adam Brace and Elias Lindholm all scored for the Checkers, whose three goals were the most they have scored at home all season. Their 40 shots against Hershey netminder David Leggio were also a season high, while their 24 shots allowed tied a season low.
Despite the loss, the Checkers, who scored the game’s final two goals after falling behind 5-1 midway through the game, feel they have plenty to build on going into Thursday’s rematch with the Bears.
“We’ve just got to keep positive, that’s all we can do right now,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “We’re a little frustrated and struggling with some confidence, but if you look at the tape we did a lot of good things.”
Before the game was halfway over, Hershey had jumped out to a 4-0 lead. Nathan Walker’s score, a well-timed deflection, didn’t leave DiPietro with much of a chance, but subsequent strikes by Ryan Stoa, Casey Wellman and Brandon Segal demonstrated that the NHL veteran on the comeback trail after seeing a promising career derailed by injuries hasn’t yet gotten back up to speed after missing training camp.
Just after a Checkers’ power play had expired near the end of the first period, Stoa came down the right wing and sold DiPietro on a fake, catching the goaltender out of position before sending a shot on net that may have been deflected by a backchecking Checker on its way in. Early in the second, Wellman found room rushing down the right side and beat DiPietro with a shot in a one-on-one situation from the right hash marks. Segal then scored on an innocent looking play, as DiPietro initially chose to play a loose puck with his stick rather than covering it with his glove, giving Segal a chance to steal it and round the sprawled goaltender for the finish.
A little over a minute after Jordan got the Checkers on the board with a power-play goal, a shot from the point that deflected off Hershey defenseman Dmitry Orlov and into the net, Jeff Taffe then ended DiPietro’s night by walking in from the corner and stuffing home a shot that beat the goaltender to the short side.
With Jim Rutherford and Ron Francis, the top members of the Carolina Hurricanes’ management team, in attendance, it wasn’t the type of game DiPietro was hoping to play.
“It was a tough night,” said Daniels of DiPietro.
John Muse, who led the AHL in goals-against average and save percentage upon entering the game, stopped all nine shots he faced the rest of the way, though he did get help when Hershey hit a pair of goal posts.
The Checkers’ 0-5-0 record now stands in stark contrast to their 5-2-1 mark on the road, though games like Wednesday’s illustrate how it’s not necessarily a change in the team’s overall mentality in each situation that causes the issues.
“When we were on the road everything was going our way and we were getting the bounces that we expected to get and that we worked for,” said Dolan. “Right now we’re working and not getting the bounces that we need. We need to stick with it, put these last four losses behind us, come out tomorrow, work for those bounces, create that offense and put the puck in the back of the net. That’s how we’re going to turn this ship around.”
More than anything else, putting the puck in the back of the net could be what gives the team more momentum moving forward. The Checkers started their current four-game home stand with a pair of 2-1 losses to the Chicago Wolves last week, marking the first time they had scored fewer than two goals in back-to-back games since March of 2012.
After falling behind by four, Brace scored right off a faceoff win by Brett Sutter, roofing the puck over an unsuspecting Leggio’s blocker. After sitting out six of the team’s first eight games, Brace now has six points (2g, 4a) during an active five-game point streak.
“He’s taking advantage of an opportunity,” said Daniels, who moved Brace up from the fourth line since the team’s last game and used him on the power play and penalty kill against Hershey. “He was out of the lineup, got back in the lineup and now he’s earned a chance for more ice times in different situations. We need guys like him to step up and help produce some goals for us.”
Lindholm, the 18-year-old, fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft who was playing his third game for the Checkers, was another one of those players. He contributed a power-play goal with 1:21 remaining in the third period on a well-placed shot off the rush for his first career AHL point.
“It was good for his confidence,” said Daniels. “He was better than he was the last two games and he’ll keep getting better. He was moving better, he was faster on the puck, he had the puck and he was looking to make plays. He got a nice shot off the rush there and hopefully he can build on that.”
“It’s been better and better,” said Lindholm, who had two points in 10 NHL games with Carolina this season. “The hockey is a little bit different (than the NHL), but hopefully I’m getting better and better. I’ve played these three games and this was probably my best one, but I have stuff to work on and I have to be better.”
For the Checkers to reverse their current losing streak, their longest overall and at home since dropping five straight at Time Warner Cable Arena from Nov. 24-Dec. 6 of last season, they’ll take similar efforts from the rest of the team.
“You can’t change the outcome of the last four games, but you can change the outcome of tomorrow night,” said Daniels.
NOTESThe Checkers are one of just two teams (Utica) that has yet to win a home game … Including last season’s playoffs, the team has lost seven consecutive games at home … Jordan’s goal was his first since Feb. 10 of last season … The Checkers out-shot Hershey 21-5 in the third period … Defenseman Rasmus Rissanen left the game with an apparent injury in the second period and did not return … Rissanen and fellow blueliner Matt Corrente were the only Checkers who did not record a shot on goal … Charlotte ended an 0-for-13 drought on the power play that spanned its last three games … Forward Brody Sutter missed the game due to injury, while defenseman Beau Schmitz was a healthy extra … Fans voted Brett Sutter as the Community Blood Center of the Carolinas Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game.
North Carolina Education Lottery Three Stars1. Brandon Segal (Hershey)
2. Casey Wellman (Hershey)
3. Aaron Palushaj