Charlotte enters the game having lost the first five games of its 10-game home stand, setting new team records for longest overall losing streak and longest home losing streak in the process. As a result, the team is now 12-8-2 on the season, having sat at a much-prettier 12-3-2 after their most recent win in Norfolk on Nov. 21.
The streak includes Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Monsters that kicked off the four-game season series between the two clubs. Dating back to their initial meetings last season, the Checkers, who visit Lake Erie for two games in early January, are now 1-2-2 all time against the Monsters.
Looking for answers for the questions surrounding their losing streak, the Checkers have no choice but to keep plugging away at a slide that has plagued them for nearly two weeks.
"We've just got to stick together, stay positive and make our own breaks," said coach Jeff Daniels. "Right now the breaks we were getting earlier we're not getting now, and it's a matter of keep working hard."
"With our preparation, look no farther than in the mirror," said goalie Justin Peters, who made 21 saves in Thursday's loss. "You can't be looking around for answers from someone else. No one feels sorry for us. The main thing that I'm doing that I'm hoping everyone else does is look in the mirror, and make sure you show up ready to play."
That being said, Dan Ellis is expected to get the start as the team continues its even rotation between its two veteran goalies. Peters is 0-3-0 during the current skid, while Ellis, who ranks tied for fifth in the AHL with a .930 save percentage, is 0-2-0.
For Ellis, whose 25-game tryout with the Checkers is set to expire in less than a week, tonight's start and likely one more against Milwaukee on Tuesday present the final audition before the team would have to present him with an extension or a new contract to prevent him from leaving. Still, having proven effective in his return from missing the second half of last season due to injury, Ellis hasn't seemed concerned.
"I signed a piece of paper before I first took the ice with these guys, and that’s about all I know,” he said. “I haven’t even talked to my agent yet, and I’m not really worried about it.”
Thursday's win against the Checkers, just the third in Lake Erie's last 10 games, allowed them to jump five places in a tighetning Western Conference race. Having previously been outside of playoff position, they now find themselves in fourth place, even on points with the second-placed Checkers, who have played one fewer game.
The initial meeting between the two clubs continued a trend of close games, with four of the five decided by one goal, including two overtime games. Just as Rockford did before them in taking two straight wins at Time Warner Cable Arena, the Monsters did a good job of limiting the Checkers' offensive chances.
"Lake Erie came in and played a simple, smart road game," said Daniels.
Goalie Sami Aittokallio was solid in making 28 saves against the Checkers, though the team could switch to fellow rookie Calvin Pickard as they, like Charlotte, have split the workload evenly between two netminders. That said, the Monsters have started the same goalie on consecutive nights three times this season, with Aittokallio having done so on one of those occasions. Pickard, whose 3.11 goals-against average and .905 save percentage trail his partner's stats, last played Sunday at Toronto, where he gave up five goals on 28 shots.
Mike Sgarbossa, the Ontario Hockey League's scoring leader last season, continued the strong start to his pro career with a goal against the Checkers on Thursday. With 20 points (9g, 11a) in 23 games, he trails only Oklahoma City defenseman Justin Schultz in AHL rookie scoring.
Mike Connolly, who scored the Monsters' first goal on Thursday, now has a three-game goal streak that is tied for the longest active run in the AHL. Bill Thomas, who scored the winning goal, has a three-game goal streak on the road, which is the second-longest active streak in the league.
Trouble at Home
Dating back to last season, the Checkers are 3-10-0 in their last 13 games at Time Warner Cable Arena. During that stretch, they have been out-scored 43-15 in their 10 losses, including an 8-2 loss to Abbotsford on April 8 and a 7-2 defeat to Oklahoma City on Nov. 25 that marked the team's most lopsided losses in each season. Prior to an 0-5-0 start to their current 10-game home stand, the Checkers had points in six consecutive games (5-0-1) and had not lost a game by more than one goal this season, something they've done in four of their last five games.
The Checkers' current home stand marks the longest in the team's three-year history, eclipsing a seven-game run in November of 2010. They are 3-6-0 at home this season and 9-2-2 on the road.
The Checkers' current five-game losing streak is the longest in the team's three-year AHL history, eclipsing three previous four-game streaks. The streak, which began with the first back-to-back losses the Checkers had suffered all season, is the longest active losing streak in the league. With all five losses coming at home, it is also the longest home losing streak the Checkers have suffered, surpassing a four-game slide from April 3-8 of last season, and is tied for the longest home losing streak posted by any AHL team this season.
The Checkers have three of the AHL's top individual performers on the power play in forwards Drayson Bowman and Zach Boychuk and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani. Bowman and Boychuk are tied for the AHL lead with six power-play goals apiece, while Gragnani, who has missed eight games this season due to illness and injury, is tied for the league lead with nine power-play assists. The Checkers lead the league with a 24.0 percent success rate on the man advantage.
The Checkers average 13.3 penalty minutes per game, which is the second-lowest total in the AHL. Prior to Nicolas Blanchard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Saturday, the Checkers were one of three teams (Grand Rapids, Springfield) that had yet to commit a 10-minute or game misconduct. Only three teams have fewer major penalties than the Checkers' 12.
Drayson Bowman has points in each of his last two games (Dec. 2-6; 1g, 1a)
Jerome Samson has points in each of his last two games (Dec. 2-6; 1g, 1a)
Rasmus Rissanen (personal) - out through games of Dec. 9