Now halfway over, the Checkers’ record home stand is setting the wrong kinds of records.
Thanks to a 3-2 defeat to the Lake Erie Monsters at Time Warner Cable Arena on Thursday, the Checkers have now lost the first five games of their marathon 10-game home stand, the longest in their three AHL seasons. Their resulting five-game losing streak and five-game home losing streak are the longest in the team’s history.
Jerome Samson and Drayson Bowman scored for the Checkers, who got 21 saves from goalie Justin Peters as they fell to 12-8-2 on the season. The two teams collide again on Friday as Charlotte continues a stretch of six home games in 10 days.
Having had to explain his team’s fall from first place in the AHL and firmly back to Earth over the two weeks, coach Jeff Daniels didn’t have much to add this time.
“At the end of the day a loss is a loss, and you can word it however you want,” he said. “It’s a loss, and we’ve got to be better.”
Unlike previous games in this skid, at least one event that fell somewhat outside of the Checkers’ control played a factor.
With the Checkers trailing 2-1 after the Monsters’ Mike Connolly and Mike Sgarbossa had answered Samson’s opening tally 5:18 into the first period, Samson appeared to tie the game early in the third after corralling a rebound, skating around outstretched goalie Sami Aittokallio and putting the puck into the empty net. However, referee Mark Lemelin ruled that Samson had interfered with Aittokallio, canceling out the goal and sending Samson to the penalty box.
The Checkers were able to kill the penalty, but surrendered a two-on-one goal to Bill Thomas two minutes later. That goal ended up being the game-winner, with the Checkers’ Drayson Bowman scoring his first goal in five games on the power play with five minutes remaining.
Daniels and Samson, whose earlier finish of a nice Jeremy Welsh feed broke a seven-game goal drought, said after the game that they disagreed with the call.
“I can’t even start to describe it,” said Samson of his frustration at the time. “I thought we were coming out in the third period and got the tying goal, and then they’re on the power play. Momentum would have been on our side, but then it flipped around.”
In speaking to officials from the penalty box, Samson said that they felt he had caught the knob of Aittokallio’s stick and spun him around as he circled the crease to get an open look. Samson, who felt the goalie was slightly out of his crease at the time, didn’t think he made significant contact.
Though that play may have been the culmination of a series of a bad breaks – the team continued its recent pounding of goal posts with two more near-misses on Thursday, the Checkers were trying not to focus too much on that play after the game.
“You can’t dwell on that, because it’s not why we lost the game,” said Peters
“You’ve got to make your own breaks,” said Daniels.
With that in mind, the Checkers will continue to try to identify what’s caused them to lose each game they’ve played since their home stand began against Oklahoma City on Nov. 24.
“A month ago we weren't really thinking, we were doing, knowing we were going to end up on the good side of the game,” said Samson. “Now we’re thinking too much. We get too much frustration.”
“It’s a very fine line between winning and losing,” said Peters. “With our preparation, look no farther than in the mirror.”
That starts with Friday’s rematch against the Monsters, who rebounded from a stretch that saw them win just two of their previous nine games. Among other things, the Checkers will be looking to reverse their fortunes on home ice, where they’ve won just three of their last 13 games dating back to last season.
“This is our building, and we’ve got to have pride in that,” said Peters.
The Checkers had previously lost four games in a row on three separate occasions, one of which included four home losses in April … Prior to their current losing streak, the Checkers had points in six consecutive games (5-0-1), one game short of the longest point streak in team history … Bowman’s goal was his sixth of the season, putting him into a three-way tie for first in the league with Houston’s Jason Zucker and teammate Zach Boychuk … Marc-Andre Gragnani’s assist on Bowman’s goal was his ninth of the season, putting him into a four-way tie for first in the league … Justin Faulk played with a full cage shield after taking a puck to the face on Sunday … Forwards Justin Soryal and Jared Staal were healthy scratches ... Fans named Samson winner of the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game Award.
North Carolina Education Lottery Three Stars
1. Bill Thomas (Lake Erie)
2. Mike Sgarbossa (Lake Erie)
3. Jerome Samson