The Checkers aim to split their season series with Lake Erie and snap their own winless streak when they play a rematch of last night’s overtime loss to the Monsters tonight.
A Lake Erie power-play goal in overtime on Thursday made it four games without a win for the Checkers, who have suffered two overtime losses during that time. Zach Boychuk scored a five-on-three goal in the third period for his team’s only goal in the 2-1 defeat that dropped the Checkers to 0-0-3 in three all-time games at Lake Erie over the past two seasons.
Tonight’s game technically concludes a five-game road swing for the Checkers, though their next home game will take place at Raleigh’s PNC Arena on Sunday.
Continuing a theme seen earlier in the team’s winless streak, the Checkers enjoyed dominant stretches during Thursday’s game, having out-shot the Monsters 12-1 to start the game and 8-1 to start the third period. However, as was the case when the team put up 54 shots against Peoria on Dec. 20 and 51 at San Antonio on Sunday, they were still unable to come away with the victory.
As predicted by Checkers coach Jeff Daniels earlier in the week, Thursday’s 2-1 finish was much more reminiscent of his club’s typical games against Lake Erie than the previous meeting, a 5-1 win for the Checkers in Charlotte. Five of the seven all-time match-ups were decided by one goal, including three in overtime.
The Checkers have now scored two or fewer goals in each of their last five games (1-2-2) despite averaging 35 shots on goal during that time. For the season, they’ve fallen from an October distinction as the AHL’s best offensive team to 12th place with an average of an even three goals per outing, even though their shots ranking has risen to second overall at 33.4 per contest.
Boychuk cemented his status as the team’s scoring leader (30 points in 34 games – seven more than second-place Justin Faulk) with his two-man advantage goal that tied the game midway through the third period. The goal was Boychuk’s 11th point in his last 10 games, easily the most of any Checkers skater during that time.
The goal also pulled Boychuk into a four-way tie for third in the AHL with seven power play goals. The Checkers, who recently experienced an 0-for-18 drought on the power play, now have power-play goals in each of their last two games, both of which were during or seconds after significant two-man advantages.
The playing status of forward Nicolas Blanchard is in doubt tonight, as the forward played the first period, seemingly without incident, but did not return for the second. The alternate captain, top penalty killer and penalty minutes leader had left the team’s previous game on Sunday after taking a hard punch in a fight with San Antonio’s Justin Vaive.
If Blanchard is unable to play, at least one of Justin Soryal and Jared Staal would enter the lineup at forward. On defense, rookie Tommi Kivisto sat on Thursday in favor of tryout signing Bobby Raymond. Marc-Andre Gragnani and Rasmus Rissanen will miss tonight's game due to injury.
Thursday’s win continued a great stretch for the Monsters in their own building, as they have now won five in a row at Quicken Loans Arena. They also extended a few individual point streaks at home, with Mike Sgarbossa and Tyson Barrie hitting seven and six straight games with a home point, respectively.
Those two players, who are among the league leaders in rookie scoring (Sgarbossa) and defenseman scoring (Barrie) factored in on the overtime winner, with Sgarbossa deflecting a shot from the point that was set up by Barrie. Sgarbossa now ranks third scoring among first-year AHL players, two points ahead of teammate Andrew Agozzino, who had the primary assist on David van der Gulik's first-period goal on Thursday.
Goalie Calvin Pickard nearly earned his fourth shutout of the season and second in as many games until Boychuk finally beat him 50 minutes into Thursday’s game. He would have had to work harder for that shutout than his previous 17-save effort in Lake Erie, as the Checkers peppered him with 36 shots on Thursday.
Pickard has split games evenly with Sami Aittokallio this season, though he has appeared in each of the Monsters’ last four games. Pickard has started on back-to-back nights two previous times this season, something he could very well do again as Aittokallio did not dress as the backup on Thursday - a role filled by recent ECHL recall Kieran Millan, a rookie who has yet to make his AHL debut.
Despite averaging 35 shots on goal over their last five games, including a 51 shot effort and a franchise-record 26-shot period at San Antonio on Sunday, the Checkers have yet to record a three-goal game during that span. That ties one other five-game stretch (Nov. 24-Dec. 6) as the longest the Checkers have gone without scoring three goals in a single contest. They are 1-2-2 in the current stretch, while the other marked a franchise-record, five-game losing streak.
For the season, the Checkers rank tied for 12th in the league with an average of 3.00 goals per game, down from the 3.53 mark it held on Dec. 1. During that time, the Checkers' average amount of shots per game has actually increased from 32.2 to a mark of 33.3 that ranks second in the AHL.
Ups and Downs
Since the start of the 2012-13 season, the Checkers have posted two six-game point streaks that tied a franchise record, suffered a franchise record five-game losing streak and are now in the midst of a four-game winless streak. The current streak, which dates back to Dec. 28 and includes two overtime losses, is tied with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the longest active run in the AHL.
All four games in the current streak have come on the road, where the Checkers started the season with a record of 10-2-2. Meanwhile, they have an active five-game point streak at home that is tied for the second-longest in the league.
Three of the Checkers' last six games have gone to overtime (twice) or a shootout, all three of which resulted in Checkers losses. The team is now 3-5 in overtime games this season, including a 1-2 record in games decided in four-on-four overtime and 2-3 in shootouts. Prior to suffering two overtime losses in their last four games, the Checkers had not given up an overtime goal since a loss at Lake Erie on March 4, 2012.
A Year to Remember
Checkers defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti finished with 58 points (15g, 43a) during the calendar year of 2012, which is more than any other AHL defenseman during that time. Sanguinetti, who finished the 2011-12 campaign with 44 points in his last 44 games, has 19 points (5g, 14a) in 33 games to rank tied for 13th in league scoring among defenseman this season.
Five of Sanguinetti's points, including three of his goals, have come in the Checkers' last eight games. Zach Boychuk (nine points) is the only Checker to score more points during that time.
In the Driver's Seat
The Checkers have held the top spot in the South Division since winning at Rockford on Oct. 20, a span of 74 days. They currently lead the second-place Houston Aeros by two points and are only four points ahead of fourth-place Texas. The Checkers are 6-4-3 in divisional play this season, having played by far the fewest inter-divisional games of any South team to this point.
- Marc-Andre Gragnani has points in each of his last three games (Dec. 14-16; 1g, 2a)
- Zach Boychuk has points in each of his last two games (Dec. 30-Jan. 3; 1g, 1a)
- Chris Terry has assists and points in each of his last two games (Dec. 30-Jan. 3; 3a)
- Rasmus Rissanen (upper body, Dec. 28) - missed three games
- Marc-Andre Gragnani (lower body, Dec. 16) - missed six games