On Thursday, Zach Boychuk scored two goals, including the overtime winner, to help Charlotte beat Peoria 5-4 and reclaim first place in the AHL with 17 points (8-3-1). The win was the Checkers’ sixth in a row against the Rivermen dating back to March 20 of last season, including three wins this season. Over the course of the winning streak, the Checkers have scored 31 goals.
The fourth meeting between the two clubs tonight will only mark the halfway point of the season series, with the teams set to meet four more times.
One of the Checkers’ most consistent forwards throughout the season, Boychuk now has goals in seven of the team’s 12 games, with Thursday marking his first two-goal outing of the campaign. His eight goals rank second on the team behind Drayson Bowman, who is tied for the AHL lead with 10.
Boychuk, who also ranks second on the team in total points behind Justin Faulk, has credited a more businesslike approach as a reason for his consistency thus far. Following Thursday’s game, he also mentioned how a new position has helped.
“I moved to the left side this year,” he said. “Last year I was playing right wing, and I think this has really helped me. I’ve been able to collect more speed, have been better on the breakouts and am just a little more confident.”
His dramatic winner against the Rivermen was his AHL-best fourth game-winning goal of the season.
“He’s been scoring some big goals for us lately,” said coach Jeff Daniels.
Boychuk is one of a handful of Checkers forwards off to good starts, with Bowman and Zac Dalpe also scoring on Thursday. Jeremy Welsh also chipped in his third of the year, while Brett Sutter and Chris Terry each extended their point streaks to five games.
Meanwhile, defense will be an area of concern for the Checkers tonight, as the team lost both Marc-Andre Gragnani and Bobby Sanguinetti to injury on Thursday. Following the game, Daniels said that Gragnani would likely not play after being hurt in the third period, while Sanguinetti was day-to-day after taking an illegal check to the head from Rivermen forward Cody Beach in the second.
Justin Krueger, a healthy scratch on Thursday, would be able to step in for one of those players, but a recall from another team would be necessary to fill a void caused by the absence of both.
In goal, Dan Ellis, who made 41 saves in a losing effort on Tuesday, should take his turn in the team’s rotation.
The Rivermen will almost certainly be without the services of Beach, who received an automatic suspension as a result of his match penalty for checking to the head against Sanguinetti. As of now, Beach’s suspension lasts only until the AHL makes a ruling to rescind the suspension or to attach a specific number of games.
Beach, who had 624 penalty minutes in 169 games of junior hockey, was making his AHL debut on Thursday to help the team cope with a handful of injured forwards including Chris Bruton, Adam Cracknelll, Andrew Murray and Stefan Della Rovere. He had earlier fought Brett Bellemore in the first period, officially giving him 20 penalty minutes on the evening.
Despite the depleted lineup, the Rivermen did still manage to score four times against the Checkers, tying their highest output of the season. Previously, Peoria, which entered Thursday’s game with the league’s 30th-ranked offense, had been shut out in three of its last four games. Their outburst against the Checkers included a power-play goal by Ian Cole, which was only the team’s second of the season.
Leading the way for the Rivermen on Thursday was AHL All-Star T.J. Hensick, who had three assists. Anthony Peluso, known more for his role as an enforcer entering this season, had two points, including his team-leading fourth goal.
Jake Allen, who has played in all but one of the team’s games this season, made 36 saves against the Checkers on Thursday. Backup Mike McKenna’s lone start of the season came against Charlotte on Oct. 27 when he allowed four goals on 35 shots.
Boychuk in the Clutch
Zach Boychuk's overtime goal on Thursday was his fourth game-winning goal of the season, giving him sole possession of the AHL lead and putting him one shy of his own single-season team record set during the 2010-11 season. Boychuk, who tied for the team lead with three game-winning goals last season, is the Checkers' all-time leader in the category with a total of 12 in 136 games played.
Now second on the team with eight goals, Boychuk, whose two goals on Thursday moved him into a tie for fourth in overall league scoring and into third in AHL goal scoring, has scored the winning goal in half of the team's wins. He has found the back of the net in seven of the team's 12 games and has had only three pointless outings.
A New Streak?
Forward Drayson Bowman, who recently saw his team-record, eight-game goal streak come to an end on Tuesday, scored in Thursday's game to tie Abbotsford's Roman Horak for the league lead with with 10 goals. In 12 games, Bowman, a fourth-year pro who split last season between Charlotte and the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes, is already over halfway to his AHL career high of 17 goals set during his rookie season with Albany in 2009-10. Bowman, whose overall goal streak was one of seven eight-game streaks in the AHL since the 2005-06 season, still has an active seven-game goal streak on the road.
Led by three of the league's top 10 scorers in Justin Faulk (t-2nd, 13 points), Zach Boychuk (t-4th, 12 points) and Drayson Bowman (t-7th, 11 points), the Checkers' 46 goals this season are the most in the AHL and at least seven more than any other team. In terms of goals per game, they rank third with an average of 3.83 per game.
The Checkers also boast the two most prolific period-by-period marks in the league, with their 20 third-period goals and 18 second-period goals the highest totals of any team in any period. Together with their 6th-ranked defense (an average of 2.50 goals allowed per game), the Checkers' offense has them tied with Springfield for the league's best goal differential (+16).
In terms of scoring opportunities, the Checkers have three of the league's top four shooters in Jerome Samson (1st - 44 shots), Bowman and Boychuk (t-3rd, 40 shots).
Charlotte leads the AHL with a 29.3 percent success rate on the man advantage (17 goals on 58 chances). Though the team has had several contributors (10 different Checkers have scored at least one power-play goal, at least two more than any other AHL team), it also features some of the league's top individual performers on the man advantage. Drayson Bowman and Zach Boychuk are tied for the league lead in goals (4), Marc-Andre Gragnani leads the league in assists (7) and Boychuk is tied for the league lead in total points (8).
A Big Plus
The Checkers' boast three players who are among the league's leaders in plus/minus in various categories. Forward Jerome Samson's +8 rating is tied for sixth among all skaters, Victor Rask's +7 is second among AHL rookies and Brett Bellemore's +8 is tied for third among all defensemen.
Chris Terry has points in each of his last five games (Oct. 21-Nov.7; 4g, 2a)
Brett Sutter has points in each of his last five games (Oct. 28-Nov. 7; 5g, 2a)
Justin Peters has wins in each of his last three games (Oct. 28-Nov. 7)
Riley Nash has points in each of his last two games (Nov. 4-8; 1g, 2a)
Jerome Samson is one point away from 100 as a Checker
Zach Boychuk scored his 50th goal as a Checker in the first period of the game vs. Peoria on Nov. 8.
Marc-Andre Gragnani left the game vs. Peoria on Nov. 8 and did not return
Bobby Sanguinetti left the game vs. Peoria on Nov. 8 and did not return