The two teams battled through a scoreless first period that saw the Checkers generate a handful of chances but nothing on the scoreboard. They ratcheted things up in the middle frame, outshooting the IceHogs 13-5, and finally found the back of the net midway through the period when Brock McGinn buried a quick wrister on the rush.
Things settled back down in the third, with the Checkers creating some chances while keeping the IceHogs at bay, until Sergey Tolchinsky ripped a slap shot from the high slot for a power-play goal to double the home team’s lead. Rockford tried to spark a comeback late, pulling their goalie after a Checkers’ penalty to go on a 6-on-4 advantage, but their gamble backfired when Patrick Dwyer deposited the puck into the vacated net. The IceHogs would try one more time to pull the goalie for an extra attacker but the Checkers pounced again, sealing the 4-0 victory thanks to a Lucas Wallmark empty-net goal.
While he wasn’t called upon much, Leighton was again perfect, earning his second consecutive shutout and setting the franchise’s longest goalless streak, currently sitting at 175:05.
Leighton’s veteran presence alone has been enough to make an impact on the players in front of him.
“It’s huge with him being the backbone out there,” said defenseman Trevor Carrick. “He’s good in the room because we’ve got a young team and he’s pretty good with that. Even going back for the pucks he’s talking to you so you always know what to do with it. Having a veteran goalie like that is huge for our team, especially having some young forwards and d-men.”
Carrick and the defense played a significant part in the light workload Leighton faced, as the crew locked down the IceHogs and disrupted their offensive attack.
“They were fighting hard, and I think as a group our defensive zone coverage was good,” said Samuelsson. “A lot of guys sacrificed to block shots and played the body real well.”
The Checkers penalty kill was impressive again, killing all five of Rockford’s power plays throughout the night, as was the power play. The Checkers have been buzzing on the man advantage over the last few games and capitalized with Tolchinsky’s strike.
“The lines just seem to find the chemistry, which is nice to happen pretty early in the season,” said Carrick of the power-play units. “We’re just keeping it simple, finding the open man and getting lots of shots. It seems to be working for us.”
Tolchinsky mentioned a small tweak that proved to be fruitful for the special teams units.
“[Samuelsson] just told us to shoot more,” said Tolchinsky. “Get more pucks to the net and eventually we’ll get rewarded.”
The Checkers have now won three games in row. After a bit of a rough start, the team seems to be getting into the swing of things.
“Those first two games in Texas (both losses) definitely wasn’t what we wanted, but coming home and getting these wins has been huge for our confidence,” said Carrick.
Tomorrow night they’ll again face a struggling Rockford team, a team the Checkers know will be desperate for a win. “They’ve lost a few games in a row and we know that, so they’re going to come out hungry,” said Carrick. “We’ve just got to match their intensity obviously.”
The good news is that the surging Checkers have plenty of momentum to build off of.
“They’re good,” said Samuelsson. “It’s fun in the room now. A lot of times when you’re having fun you play your best game.”
“We have a really good team and a really good locker room,” said Tolchinsky. “It feels like a family and we play for each other. We play really smart and have really good chemistry, so things are really good right now.”