After an 8-1 loss to the Hershey Bears on Thursday, the Checkers are now 0-6-0 at home this season, marking the longest home losing streak in team history. Their overall losing streak of five games, which began on the road before carrying through a now-completed four-game home stand, ties a team record.
Aside from records set solely by the end result of a loss, the final score didn’t do Charlotte any additional favors, as the seven-goal loss margin marked the largest the team has ever experienced in the regular season, home or away. The team also lost 8-1 in last season’s playoffs, which was the start of an active eight-game home losing streak that spans both seasons.
Adding all that together, the Checkers are left to search for answers as they depart Friday for a two-game trip to Toronto.
“Tonight is pretty much rock bottom,” said coach Jeff Daniels, whose team fell to 5-8-1 on the season. “We’ve got to look up now. Less than five games ago we were going pretty good then all of the sudden five games later we’re struggling big time. It’s part of their development and part of this league.”
“When we were doing pretty good on the road we were tenacious on pucks, we wanted the puck, we were confident and we were grittier,” said defenseman Mark Flood. “It just seems like we’re losing a lot of battles on pucks and when we get down a couple of goals we get deflated.”
That’s more or less what happened in this particular game, when Hershey went up 3-0 in the first period on bounces that were unfortunate to the Checkers – a theme of late. Starting goalie John Muse, who gave up seven of the goals on 26 shots before giving way to Rick DiPietro with 11 minutes to go, saw a shot he stopped with his blocker shoot straight up and fall into the goal behind him before anyone could locate it on the second. On the third, a cross-ice Hershey pass while on the power play was blocked, with the new path of the puck headed directly to the stick of Nathan Walker for an easy finish.
Given the current state of affairs, it was always going to be tough to bounce back from that.
“In the last couple of games we’ve gone down a couple of goals early, and that probably did deflate us a little bit,” said Flood. “That’s part of the game and part of hockey, and we’re professionals and we’ve got to be mentally tough and physically tough to respond from that.”
“We come out OK and the legs are moving, then we get down one, two nothing then we take a bad penalty and they score a third goal and we crawl into a hole for 10 or 15 minutes,” said forward Aaron Palushaj. “We can’t play the game like that. Even if we get scored on first, it’s still a long game, and that’s something we’ll learn from.”
The closest the Checkers got to making something happen was when Hershey’s Connor Carrick took two separate penalties – one for holding and one for boarding – in the same sequence to give the home team a four-minute power play late in the first period. Zach Boychuk capitalized on a well-placed shot early enough in the man advantage to leave a full two minutes remaining, part of which carried over into the second period.
Despite a clear boost from Boychuk’s goal, his first in nine games, the Checkers weren’t able to do any more damage. Hershey would add a fourth goal in the second period to restore the three-goal lead before the wheels completely came off in the third, when the Bears made it look easy by scoring four times in a span of six minutes.
“That’s where we’re at right now, “said Daniels. “We’re a fragile team that’s struggling to score goals and be consistent. In the second period I thought we worked hard and had a lot of zone time, then they go down the other end, it’s in the back of the net and it’s a 4-1 game. In the third period we just weren’t sharp and got deflated.”
With home not being kind to the Checkers for some time, the change of scenery involved with the coming trip, one that will include a full two days off in between games against the Marlies, could be of some benefit.
“Just to get away is probably good for us right now, just to be together,” said Daniels. “We’re going to get out of his together with the group of guys that are in there. Instead of leaving the rink tonight and going in different directions, we’ll get on a plane tomorrow and be together, we’ll be on a bus and be together, we’ll practice tomorrow and guys will be on the road going to dinner together. That’s the way we’re going to get out of this. The group of guys in that locker room have to stick together and work it out.”
“We’ve got to build from the ground up,” said Flood. “We’ve got to win battles, we’ve got to be tenacious and we’ve got to want the puck. We’ve got to win, is what it comes down to.”
NOTESThe Checkers’ home losing streak is the longest of any AHL team this season, and they are one of just two teams (Utica) that has yet to record a home victory … Charlotte’s most recent five-game losing streak began in late November of last season. With all five losses coming at home, that also marked the now-broken record for longest home losing streak … Elias Lindholm assisted on Boychuk’s goal for his second point in as many games … The Checkers were 1-for-4 on the power play, scoring for the second consecutive game after a three-game skid, but also gave up two power-play goals (Hershey was 2-for-7), marking the second straight game they have allowed two power-play goals … Prior to Thursday, Muse, who led the league with a 1.27 goals-against average and .957 save percentage in six appearances, had not allowed more than three goals in a single game this season … Rasmus Rissanen had a game-low, minus-4 rating … Adam Brace saw his five-game point streak snapped but led the Checkers with five shots on goal … Brody Sutter missed his sixth consecutive game due to injury, while defenseman Beau Schmitz was a healthy extra ... Fans voted Nicolas Blanchard as the Community Blood Center of the Carolinas Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game.
North Carolina Education Lottery Three Stars1. Casey Wellman (Hershey)
2. Peter LeBlanc (Hershey)
3. Philipp Grubauer (Hershey)