If the Checkers are anywhere near as good at home as they were on the road, they shouldn't have much to worry about next week.
Now that the nine-game road swing that tied a club record is out of the way, the Checkers are set up nicely for a four-game home stand beginning with Sunday afternoon’s opener against Chicago. At 6-2-1, Charlotte has the highest point total in the AHL despite being the only team that has yet to play a game in its own building.
The key to maintaining that success next week? Simple, according to coach Jeff Daniels.
“Don’t change anything,” he said.
More specifically, “anything” includes a handful of remarkable individual feats, including Justin Faulk’s team-leading 11 points in seven games, Drayson Bowman’s seven-game goal streak, Dan Ellis’ Player of the Week award and significant power-play contributions from Zach Boychuk and Marc-Andre Gragnani.
Though they return home not thrilled with their most recent game, a 5-4 loss in Milwaukee on Wednesday, they’re more importantly pleased with the way they’ve come together as a team in such a short amount of time.
“We have a core group of guys that have been here, and that really helped with the transition,” said Daniels. “Even though we have a new system, guys knew what to do and our leaders did a good job of preparing everyone to play each night.”
“We’ve got off to a good start a team and everyone’s been very consistent,” said Bowman, who leads the league with eight goals. “Everyone has a lot of confidence, and it just seems like that makes a lot of space out there. It’s amazing what can happen when you’re playing like that, because you know you can come back from, one, two or even three goals down.”
To Bowman’s point, the team did erase a three-goal deficit exactly one week ago in Grand Rapids, but they’re hoping they won’t be in that position on Sunday, even with a well-known hockey meme seemingly working against them.
“A lot of times in hockey there’s a little bit of a letdown in your first game back for whatever reason, but guys will be excited to play for the first time at home,” said Bowman.
If that excitement is enough carry the Checkers, they’ll also have to be careful to not overdo it.
“We can’t come back home and be worried about putting on a show,” said Daniels.
As strange as it might be to play a home game – not only for the experience of playing in Time Warner Cable Arena, but for the lack of a six-hour bus ride immediately afterwards and the ability to eat meals in the comforts of one’s one living space – the Checkers will have plenty of practice coming up. Twelve of the team’s next 16 games will be played in Charlotte, all except for a four-game swing in mid-November.
The first two games will be against a Chicago Wolves team that trails the Checkers by two points with one game in hand, meaning that the teams could potentially have identical 6-2-1 records heading into Sunday’s game depending on what happens in the Wolves’ game in Rockford on Friday night.
Whether that’s the case or not, it appears the Checkers’ approach will be same.
“The work has been there, and we’ve got to remember why we’ve won the games that we have,” said Daniels.