As good as the Checkers’ season-opening road swing was, they’ll have to settle for an imperfect ending.
Playing the last of nine consecutive away games to start the season, the Checkers fell 5-4 in a back-and-forth game in Milwaukee that dropped their overall record to 6-2-1. Jared Staal, Drayson Bowman, Brett Sutter and Justin Faulk scored for Charlotte, which got 25 saves from reigning AHL Player of the Week Dan Ellis.
With the game being the only one on the AHL’s Wednesday slate, the Checkers retain the highest points total in the American Hockey League as they prepare to head back home for Sunday’s home opener at Time Warner Cable Arena. The quiet night around the league also ensures that Bowman, who extended his team record goal-scoring streak to seven games, finished the game with sole possession of the AHL lead with eight goals on the season.
No team ever led by more than one goal during the game, which ended with the same score as the Checkers’ only other regulation loss in Rockford on Oct. 21. Whenever one team scored a big goal, it seemed as though the other had an immediate response, with the Admirals’ Daniel Bang scoring the winner off a cross-ice pass from Juuso Puustinen midway through the third period, just 53 seconds after Faulk had tied it on a shot from the blue line that found its way through traffic and past goalie Magnus Hellberg.
Even in the first period, when Checkers forward Jared Staal, playing for the first time since the season opener on Oct. 13, forced a turnover and scored a breakaway goal on Hellberg just six minutes in, Milwaukee tied it just two minutes later when Chris Mueller found a loose puck underneath Ellis and jammed it home.
That goal ended two impressive streaks for the Checkers, who did not allow a goal for 167 total minutes of game action spanning parts of four games, scoring 16 unanswered goals during that time. It also ended a personal shutout streak of 157 minutes for Ellis, who entered the game as the AHL’s leader in goals-against average (1.07) and save percentage (.967) among goalies that had played more than one game.
Starting with Patrick Cehlin’s goal just three minutes after Mueller’s that made it 2-1, the teams would trade goals for the rest of the night, with Charlotte running out of time to tie it. Bowman’s goal sent the teams into the first intermission tied 2-2, with Kevin Henderson and Brett Sutter, who scored his first three goals of the season and first career hat trick for the Checkers on Sunday, canceling each other out in the second.
It was in the third that Nashville Predators’ first-round pick Austin Watson scored his first professional goal on a tip in front of Ellis, with Faulk and Bang then finding the back of the net once each to determine the final score. The Checkers did get an opportunity to tie it late in the game, especially with 21 seconds remaining when an Admirals penalty gave them a power play, but the visitors couldn’t capitalize.
The Checkers, who entered the game with the league’s best power play at 36.6 percent, went 0-for-4 on the evening, failing to score at least one power play goal for the first time this season. The loss tied the eight-game season series between the clubs at 1-1, with the Checkers taking a 4-3 win in Milwaukee on Oct. 19.
Checkers defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti was a late scratch due to illness … Staal’s goal was his first since Feb. 4 … Bowman is one goal shy of 50 as a Checker … Zach Boychuk, Victor Rask and Jerome Samson each saw four-game point streaks come to an end, while Faulk (1g, 1a) extended his point streak to four games … Checkers forward Chris Terry served the second of a two-game suspension for elbowing … Forwards A.J. Jenks and Justin Soryal and defenseman Rasmus Rissanen were healthy scratches for Charlotte.
1. Chris Mueller (Milwaukee)
2. Daniel Bang (Milwaukee)
3. Justin Faulk