It was a rocky start for the home team as Belleville pumped in a pair of tallies within the first three minutes of play to put the Checkers in an early hole. That advantage was no match for Charlotte’s power play, however, a unit that was pumping on all cylinders. It struck twice to pull them back into a tie, first with a point blast from Brenden Kichton and then a slick snipe from Aleksi Saarela.
With the lead in their possession for the first time, the Checkers fought back Belleville’s attack for the remainder of regulation until a Kuokkanen empty netter, his fourth point of the game, put the final nail in the coffin and snapped Charlotte’s losing skid.
After surrendering those two quick tallies early on, netminder Alex Nedeljkovic locked in and frustrated the Senators for the rest of the night, stopping 21 of the 23 pucks he saw to end his personal two-game losing streak and claim his eighth win of the season, tying him for the league lead.
QUOTESCoach Mike Vellucci on the game
Not early, obviously we got behind. Two shots, two goals. We didn’t compete. I just talked to them about it in there – we’ve got to find a way to start out better. If it’s a mindset that we’re down by two already, then that’s it. That’s the negative. The positive is that we didn’t get down on each other and we stayed with it. We scored two big power-play goals and then got the one in the third. The team is close, they’re not negative, and that’s the good part for me.
Vellucci on the power play
Both units are getting opportunities, but the reason that one clicked tonight was because we shot it. It was a deflection that goes in and we get some traffic in front. We had two power plays right after that where we were passing too much, then we got back to the basics and shot it. Saarela’s got a great shot. It’s pretty much a one-on-one with the goaltender and he’s going to make that goal nine out of 10 times.
Vellucci on the line of Saarela, Kuokkanen and Brown
That line played really well. The two Finns like playing with each other, and then Brownie gives them stability because he’s a leader, a hard worker and hunts down all the pucks for them. They’re a good combination.
Vellucci on Saarela’s game
We always knew he had the shot, but now he’s getting open to do it. Before he wasn’t hustling and wasn’t competing and wasn’t skating, but tonight he was beating guys one-on-one and manhandling them physically. That’s the key for him.
Brenden Kichton on getting back in a rhythm after missing several games to injury this season
It felt good. I’ve got to try to get my legs under me because with that much time out it’s hard to get in a rhythm. I’ve got to tighten up a few things here, but it’s key for me to get back and playing.
Kichton on coming back tonight
We just persevered. Everyone stayed pretty positive on the bench, and that was key. To get those power play goals was huge for us, and it was a big two points.
Kichton on returning home
Eighteen days on the road is a long time, so it’s key for us to get back into a rhythm at home. That’s going to come with building some momentum here.
Janne Kuokkanen on playing with Saarela and Brown
We have a good, fast line there and everyone can see each other. (Saarela) is more like a sniper and I’m more of a playmaker. That’s why I like to find him, because he has such a good shot and can pretty much score from everywhere.
Kuokkanen on increased confidence from ending the losing streak
When you get points and you play a good game you get some confidence. It’s a huge thing for us and we’ll have much better confidence tomorrow than we had today. This was a good turning point.