The Checkers hope to navigate through some uncertainty and build off one of the most convincing wins in team history in today’s rematch with the Oklahoma City Barons.
On Friday, the Checkers, led by Tim Wallace’s four points and Justin Peters’ second consecutive shutout, beat the Barons by a 7-0 score that tied the most lopsided win in team history. They have now won three consecutive games, out-scoring their opponents by a combined 14-1 margin during that time.
With NHL training camps set to begin as early as Sunday, both teams could look quite different in today’s game, the fourth in the eight-game season series that Oklahoma City leads 2-1-0. The game is the second of a three-in-three set for Charlotte, which moves on to face Houston on Sunday.
If Friday’s game was the last in the AHL for a handful of Checkers players, at least for the time being, it was one to remember.
Seven different players scored goals in the 7-0 win, with Wallace, a veteran forward who spent most of last season in the NHL, setting a new career high with four points (1g, 3a). Zach Boychuk, Chris Terry, Zac Dalpe, Jeremy Welsh, Sean Dolan and Bobby Sanguinetti, most of whom have a good chance of getting good news today, also found the back of the net.
In goal, Peters made 24 saves for his second shutout in as many starts, marking the first time he had accomplished the feat since the 2008-09 season with Albany. It was also the first time in Checkers history that a player had earned a shutout in back to back games and marked the club’s sixth team shutout of the season, extending a single-season record.
If the Carolina Hurricanes do issue camp invites today, the Checkers could have a wildly different look, with General Manager Jim Rutherford suggesting that six or seven players who started the season with the Checkers could do so in the NHL. Defenseman Justin Faulk, certainly among that group, has already moved on to Raleigh, with the likes of Drayson Bowman, Jerome Samson, Brett Sutter and Dan Ellis additional possibilities to join players listed above.
However many players leave, the Checkers would likely make just as many recalls or tryout signings from the ECHL level to fill their roster through the rest of the weekend and beyond. They’ve already made a handful of such recalls due to recent injuries, with forwards A.J. Jenks and David Rutherford and defensemen Tommi Kivisto and Bobby Raymond all in the lineup on Friday.
Unless they’re on Carolina’s list, Samson could return from an injury that cost him Friday’s game and Sutter will return from a one-game boarding suspension. Samson was one of five players who missed Friday’s game due to injury, with forward Justin Soryal and Rasmus Rissanen possible, albeit not likely, to return tonight. Forward Nicolas Blanchard and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani will remain out.
As evidenced by back-to-back losses that culminated in Friday’s blowout, the Barons have already experienced their biggest roster shock caused by the NHL’s return.
Forwards Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall and defenseman Justin Schultz, all among the league’s scoring leaders, have already returned to their rightful home with the Edmonton Oilers. Center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the first overall draft pick in 2011, had already left Oklahoma City to represent Canada at the recent World Junior Championship.
That said, the rest of the team that finished with the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference last season should still be able to navigate the remainder of the AHL schedule once they wade through a turbulent period is likely to cost them additional players tonight. Forwards Teemu Hartikainen and Magnus Paajarvi, defenseman Colten Teubert, goalie Yann Danis and possibly others could be headed north to join the “Fab Four” at any time.
If the bulk of the above players leave, the Barons, like the Checkers, will need immediate contributions from more inexperienced players. Of the 11 goals they scored against Charlotte in the first two meetings in late November, all but three were scored by a player listed above.
With the status of Danis, a 31-year-old veteran who gave up four goals on 13 shots last night, uncertain, the Barons may hand a start to rookie backup Olivier Roy tonight. Roy entered Friday’s game in the second period, allowing the Checkers to score three times on 21 shots.
The Checkers' 7-0 victory over Oklahoma City on Friday tied a franchise record for largest margin of victory and set a new record for largest victory margin on the road. The team's only other seven-goal victory came at home against the Syrcause Crunch on Dec. 6, 2010. It also tied the second-largest victory margin seen in the AHL this season, with Manchester recording a seven-goal win on Dec. 8 and Springfield winning by eight goals on Nov. 4.
Charotte's seven goals during the game were a season high and its most since scoring eight in an 8-2 victory over Norfolk on March 27, 2011. It was the fifth time the Checkers had scored seven or more goals in a single game, with their 10 goals in their only other seven-goal victory over Syracuse representing the team's all-time high.
Shutting the Door
Justin Peters' 24-save shutout against Oklahoma City on Friday marked the 11th of his AHL career, fourth of the season and second in as many games. He has now tied his single-season career high for shutouts set with Albany during the 2008-09 campaign, has set a new team record for most shutouts in a single season and is the Checkers' all-time leader with five shutouts in a Checkers uniform. Peters is now tied for second in AHL shutouts, trailing Springfield's Curtis McElhinney by two. Along with Dan Ellis, Peters brought the Checkers' number of team shutouts this season to six, extending a single-season franchise record.
Dating back to Dec. 11, Peters is 6-2-1 with a 1.30 goals-against average and .946 save percentage in his last nine games played. His back-to-back shutouts are the second such instance of his AHL career and first since the 2008-09 season with Albany. No other Checkers goaltender had ever accomplished the feat in back-to-back starts.
Wallace Goes Wild
Checkers forward Tim Wallace recorded four points on Friday (1g, 3a), setting a new career high and tying a franchise record for most points in a single game. Wallace, who had not recorded a multi-point game all season until notching two assists in the Checkers' previous game, had scored three points on three previous occassions and three assists on one previous occasion during his 365-game AHL career.
Prior to Wallace's outburst, a Checkers player had scored four points in a game on eight separate occasions, including a four-assist performance by Marc-Andre Gragnani earlier this season. In prior seasons, Zach Boychuk (twice), Zac Dalpe (twice), Oskar Osala (twice) and Bobby Sanguinetti had also recorded four-point nights in a Charlotte uniform.
After going through a four-game winless streak on either side of the new year, the Checkers have now won three games in a row for the fourth time this season and are one away from tying their season-high, four-game streak from Dec. 11-16. During the current streak, they have out-scored their opponents by a combined 14-1 margin, having recorded two shutouts and scoring at least three goals in each game.
Reaching for the Top
With the NHL lockout coming to an end and training camps set to begin as soon as this weekend, a number of Checkers players will be looking to make a return to the major leagues with Carolina. Of the 26 players currently on the team's roster, 12 have at least one game of NHL experience. All but three of those players (Dan Ellis, Marc-Andre Gragnani and Tim Wallace) have played for the Hurricanes.
Dalpe's Quiet Contributions
Zac Dalpe, who ranks second on the Checkers in scoring with 25 points (12g, 13a), is also among the team's leaders in a handful of less-heralded categories. His six penalty minutes are the fewest of any skater with more than 10 games played, while his +13 plus/minus rating leads the team and his 116 shots on goal are tied for the team lead.
With a goal and an assist on Friday, Dalpe extended his goal and point streak to three games (4g, 2a).
The Checkers are in the midst of playing three games in three nights for the fifth time this season as they get set for a Saturday rematch with the Barons before traveling to Houston to play on Sunday. In their last set at Houston, Texas and San Antonio from Dec. 28-30, the Checkers did not record a victory (0-2-1) for the first time in 21 attempts as an AHL franchise.
Thanks to sweeping two separate three-in-three sets for the first two times in their history earlier in the season, the Checkers are now 11-3-2 in games that are part of a three-in-three set this season, including a 5-0-1 mark in Game One, a 3-1-1 record in Game Two and a 3-2-0 showing in Game Three. Following this weekend, the Checkers will play two additional three-in-three sets later in the season.
In the Driver's Seat
The Checkers have began each day holding the top spot in the South Division since winning at Rockford on Oct. 20, a span of 82 days. Charlotte, which currently leads the second-place Texas Stars by two points, is 7-4-3 in divisional play this season, having played by far the fewest inter-divisional games of any South team to this point.
The South Division is currently the AHL's only division that has four teams (Charlotte, Texas, Houston and Oklahoma City) with 40 or more points.
- Chris Terry has points in each of his last five games (Dec. 30-Jan. 11; 2g, 5a)
- Zac Dalpe has goals and points in each of his last three games (Jan. 4-11; 4g, 2a)
- Tim Wallace has points in each of his last three games (Jan. 4-7; 2g, 5a)
- Marc-Andre Gragnani has points in each of his last three games (Dec. 14-16; 1g, 2a)
- Jerome Samson has points in each of his last two games (Jan. 4-6; 1g, 1a)
- Jerome Samson (upper body, Jan. 6) - missed one game
- Justin Soryal (upper body, Jan. 4) - missed two games
- Nicolas Blanchard (upper body, Jan. 3) - missed three games
- Rasmus Rissanen (upper body, Dec. 28) - missed six games
- Marc-Andre Gragnani (lower body, Dec. 16) - missed nine games