Charlotte Checkers vs. Abbotsford Heat
The Checkers’ most recent game in Raleigh did not go nearly as well as their first.

In their second-ever game at PNC Arena, home of the parent Carolina Hurricanes, Charlotte fell 5-1 to the visiting Abbotsford Heat on Saturday. Victor Rask scored the lone goal and John Muse made 28 saves for the Checkers, who returned from the five-day All-Star break by extending their winless streak to five games (0-4-1).

Unlike their 3-1 win over Norfolk in their PNC Arena debut on Jan. 6 of last season, a day that happened to coincide with the end of the NHL’s work stoppage, the first of a back-to-back set against the Heat that continues Sunday at 4 p.m. left much to be desired.

“We didn’t play well,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “That’s one of the better teams in the league and if we want to turn pucks over and roll the dice and play that game we’re going to struggle and that showed tonight.”

Charlotte Checkers vs. Abbotsford HeatScore SheetPhoto Gallery
“I don’t think we played the way we wanted right from the start,” said captain Brett Sutter. “The intensity wasn’t there for whatever reason. I don’t know if it was because of the break or what it was, but we didn’t play the right way from the drop of the puck and it cost us.”

Aside from the rest, the desperate need for points to get back in the playoff race and the chance to play in the venue that houses the NHL team the Checkers hope to play for one day, the fact that the Heat didn’t arrive in Raleigh until 4 a.m. following a 19-hour bus ride from Chicago made the poor performance all the more surprising.

“Absolutely,” said Sutter. “We talked before the break about going out, getting refreshed and coming back with the right frame of mind because these points are huge for us.”

“Because of the break we had the advantage,” said defenseman Ryan Murphy, who played the first half of the season with Carolina before joining the Checkers. “They were on a bus for quite a bit, got into town late and hadn’t skated until tonight. We should have taken advantage of that and we didn’t.”

The loss dropped the Checkers to 0-3-0 against Abbotsford, which extended its lead at the top of the Western Conference, in a season series that concludes Sunday. Unlike a 7-1 loss in the first meeting earlier this month in which the Checkers trailed by four after just 12 minutes, the Heat didn’t begin to pull away until near the exact midway point, when former AHL MVP Corey Locke pickpocketed Philippe Cornet in the defensive zone to set up a two-on-none break that resulted in an unassisted goal by 2011 first-round draft pick Sven Baertschi that made it 3-1.

That was the first of three unanswered goals for the Heat, who took the lead for good with an opening goal just 1:32 into the game on a short-side snipe by Markus Granlund on a delayed penalty and tacked on another early strike just 14 seconds into the second period courtesy of Blair Jones on a two-on-one.

“We’ve got to be smarter with the puck, simplify our game and get more pucks deep,” said Daniels. “If we want to be cute and turn this game into a track meet, we’re not going to win that way.”

The Checkers were able to capitalize on their first power play of the game with a goal by Rask, who stabbed home the rebound of Chris Terry’s shot from the right circle to make it 2-1. However, the man advantage would squander a chance to get back into the game shortly after Baertschi’s goal when a double minor to former Hurricanes prospect Trever Gillies gave them four minutes to work with.

“The four-minute power play didn’t generate anything and it was downhill from there,” said Daniels.

Third-period power play goals by AHL All-Star Ben Street and Ben Hanowski were icing on the cake, with the Checkers generating far less offense than they did earlier in the game when they got a breakaway chance by Zach Boychuk, a rebound opportunity by Justin Shugg that missed the net and a hit post in the first period.

Saturday’s game and the four that preceded it have put the Checkers on their longest winless streak since suffering a franchise-record seven consecutive regulation losses in November.

Charlotte Checkers vs. Abbotsford Heat
“We give up a goal early and it’s back to where we were a couple of months ago where mentally we get down,” said Daniels. “We’re not mentally strong right now and it showed tonight.”

The Checkers had rebuilt their playoff hopes between those streaks, winning eight of 10 in January, giving them hope that the solution may not be far off.

“Now we know we’re a good team and we know we can win,” said Sutter. “Right before this we were on a winning streak, so if we change a few things in our game and the way we’re playing and get a little more north-south we can be a winning team again real easily.”

Starting slow in a back-to-back against the same opponent has been a theme for the Checkers of late, with some of their better bounce-back performances coming in the latter half. They’ll hope for more of the same on Sunday, their last appearance in Raleigh this season.

“The coaches do a good job of getting our heads back where they need to be,” said Sutter. “For as frustrating and disappointing that is, we need to regroup pretty quickly. Tomorrow’s a must-win like they are for the rest of the year.”

“Tomorrow we’re going to be a different team,” said Murphy. “The boys are going to be hungry for a win tomorrow because tonight wasn’t the start we were looking for.”


Sunday’s game, originally scheduled for 1:30 p.m., will now be played at 4 ... The game featured three fights, with the Checkers’ Nicolas Blanchard, Brendan Woods and Keegan Lowe each dropping the gloves … In four AHL seasons, the Checkers are now 3-1-0 in their first game following the All-Star break … Granlund’s goal was his 22nd of the season, tying Boychuk for fourth in the AHL … Terry’s goal drought hit 13 games, tying his career high set on two previous occasions … The Checkers have lost five consecutive divisional games after starting out 10-2-1 against the West Division … Charlotte is 0-7-0 against Canadian teams this season (0-4-0 against Toronto, 0-3-0 against Abbotsford) … Blanchard played his 450th professional game … Forward Matt Marquardt and defenseman Mark Flood were healthy scratches, with Flood missing his first game of the season … Forward Greg Nemisz missed the game due to injury.

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Paul Branecky
Author: Paul BraneckyEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The Checkers' vice president of communications, Paul Branecky has been covering hockey in North Carolina since 2006, including five seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes.

June 2018
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