One night after enjoying a brief offensive resurgence in a 4-1 win over Milwaukee, the Checkers fell 2-1 in a rematch at Time Warner Cable Arena on Sunday afternoon. Zach Boychuk had given his team the lead late in the first period, raising hopes that it could win consecutive games for the first time since the season’s opening weekend, while Rob Madore made 25 saves in his AHL season debut.
Playing a team notoriously adept at limiting scoring chances, the Checkers mustered just 18 shots on goal, one away from a franchise low that they had met less than two weeks ago in Toronto. The loss marked the team’s 10th in its last 12 games and dropped them to 1-1-0 to start their current 10-game home stand.
“It was just one of those nights where things aren’t going your way and you don’t score the right goals at the right times,” said Boychuk, who netted his second goal in as many games.
It seemed as though the Checkers had done exactly that in the final moments of the first period, when the Admirals’ Michael Liambas, who finished the weekend with 19 penalty minutes, and goalie Scott Darling took charging and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, respectively, on the same sequence.
Just as he had done one night earlier, Boychuk scored just eight seconds into the man advantage, this time with only eight seconds left in the period, giving the Checkers nearly two full minutes of power-play time to start the second. Six of Boychuk’s seven goals this season have come on the man advantage, tying him for second-most in the AHL.
Though things seemed to be going the Checkers’ way at that time, Milwaukee had the better energy on the remainder of the power play in the second period, a frame in which they would hold the Checkers to just three shots, tying a season low.
“The power play gave us no momentum going into the second period,” said Daniels. “We talked about how we can’t relax, and sure enough they came at us and probably had more chances than we did. I thought that set the tone, and they were the better team in the second period.”
It proved to be a turning point for the entire game, with Milwaukee’s Miikka Salomaki finally capitalizing on one of many excellent, wide-open chances his team was able to earn in the slot in front of Madore, with the Admirals forward beating the goaltender in a one-on-one situation.
In the third period, it was Milwaukee’s Austin Watson scoring the winner just past the seven-minute mark, depositing a rebound that sat uncontested in the crease.
“We made two soft plays on the puck and don’t get it out, and it’s in the back of our net,” said Daniels, echoing similar descriptions from the team’s previous losses, the last four of which also sprung from games that were tied early in the third period.
A bright spot for the Checkers was the play of Madore, who looked every bit the goaltender he was towards the end of last season, when he grabbed hold of the starting job with a 1.83 goals-against average, .951 save percentage and two shutouts in his first nine AHL games. Sunday marked his first AHL game of the season after signing a pro tryout contract to replace Mike Murphy, who continues to deal with an injury, and Rick DiPietro, who left the team earlier in the week.
Despite the high stakes for Madore, who isn’t necessarily guaranteed of getting any more games with the Checkers during his tryout, he seemed confident throughout, particularly while making a string of flashy glove saves reminiscent of those seen last season.
“If you’re going to be any good, you have to have confidence in yourself,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of experiences this year where I’ve gotten to play in all three leagues. It’s just hockey. You’ve got to go out and do your job every night and give your team a chance to win.”
Daniels said after the game that he felt as though Madore did that, making the loss all the more frustrating.
“It’s what we need to do and we’re not doing it right now,” said Daniels.
“That’s what happens when you lose seven in a row and only win one of your last 10,” said Boychuk, referring to stretches the team endured during a 2-9-0 month of November. “You have to start winning back-to-back games and put streaks together on the winning side. We’re definitely going to have to do that if we want to make the playoffs this year.”