The Checkers look to make it three wins in a row when they complete a back-to-back set in Oklahoma City tonight.
On Thursday, Charlotte got a dramatic late winner from defenseman Bobby Raymond to break a 1-1 tie with 21 seconds remaining in regulation. The win improved the Checkers to 6-1-0 in seven all-time meetings at Oklahoma City and allowed them to regain the overall top spot in the American Hockey League.
Following tonight’s game, which marks the Checkers’ final visit to Oklahoma City this season, the team will return home to enjoy its longest break between games of the entire season heading into the annual Pink in the Rink game on Saturday, Feb. 9.
In scoring the late winner on Thursday, Raymond, a defenseman who joined the team from the ECHL’s Florida Everblades one month ago, became the first Checker to record game-winning goals in consecutive games since the team joined the AHL two seasons ago.
Prior to those goals, Raymond, who replaced his professional tryout contract with a proper AHL deal last week, had no goals in 50 career regular-season games at that level.
“He earned (the contract) by coming up and playing well for us,” said coach Jeff Daniels prior to Thursday’s game. “He can skate, move the puck and play a little bit of power play. Right now he fits a good role for us.”
Raymond’s goal was the second power-play strike of the night for Charlotte, which went 2-for-7 against the league’s 30th-ranked penalty kill. Jeremy Welsh, who picked up a key assist on Raymond’s goal, scored the team’s opening goal in the first period.
All-Star goalie Justin Peters, who has played in all five of the Checkers’ games against the Barons this season (3-1-0, 1.81 goals-against average, .934 save percentage), made several important saves to give his team a chance to pull ahead on Raymond’s goal. With the team off for four days prior to this set against Oklahoma City and off for another seven days after, it’s possible that Daniels will again turn to his No. 1 netminder to complete the set.
Backup John Muse, recalled from the Everblades on Jan. 12, is 2-0-0 with a 2.41 goals-against average and .886 save percentage in two appearances with the Checkers this season.
While they were able to create scoring chances on the forecheck, much as they were when a defensive-zone turnover led to Nathan Deck’s first AHL goal on Thursday, the Barons weren’t able to apply consistent pressure to Peters in the first meeting between the two clubs.
That may not come as a total surprise with six of the team’s top seven scorers playing in the NHL these days, though the Barons do have a handful of weapons at their disposal. All-Star Marc Arcobello is the team’s active scoring leader with 35 points, while professional tryout signing Jonathan Cheechoo has chipped in two assists in four games since joining the team last week.
Additionally, the Edmonton Oilers reassigned forward Magnus Paajarvi prior to Thursday’s game, making him a possibility to rejoin the team tonight. Paajarvi, a first-round pick who has 20 points in 37 AHL games this season, was scoreless in five games with Edmonton to start the NHL season.
Rookie Olivier Roy looked good in making 27 saves against Charlotte on Thursday, though the team may go in a different direction tonight with three goalies on their roster. Yann Danis, the reigning AHL Goaltender of the Year, also recently rejoined the team from Edmonton, while waiver acquisition Niko Hovinen, a 6-foot-7 native of Finland, awaits his AHL debut.
Since the NHL lockout cost them the services of NHL stars Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a future star in Justin Schultz and a handful of others on Jan. 6, the Barons are 2-6-1.
In scoring a third-period goal to make the score 5-4 against Abbotsford on Jan. 26 and scoring to put the Checkers up 2-1 with 21 seconds remaining at Oklahoma City on Jan. 31, defenseman Bobby Raymond became the first Checker to record game-winning goals in consecutive games since the team joined the AHL. Prior to scoring those goals, Raymond, who signed an AHL contract with the team on Jan. 22, had not scored a goal in 50 previous regular-season games at the AHL level.
Upon initially joining the team on a professional tryout contract on Dec. 31, Raymond, 27, was the top-scoring defenseman for the ECHL's Florida Everblades with 19 points (8g, 11a) in 30 games.
Happy New Year
Since the calendar turned to 2013, the Checkers have posted a 9-3-1 record, making January the third-best month in their three seasons at the AHL level. With 19 points, the month came one point short of February 2011 (8-1-4: 20 points) and three points short of November 2010 (10-2-2: 22 points).
Back in the Saddle
After losing the top spot in the South Divsion for the first time in 96 days on Jan. 25, the Checkers' win over division rival Oklahoma City on Thursday allowed them to leapfrog the idle Texas Stars to once again claim the top spot. The Checkers also hold a one-point lead over Texas and Binghamton, which have each played fewer games, for the overall top spot in the AHL.
The Checkers are 10-4-3 against South Division teams this season, having played by far the fewest intradivisional games of any South team to this point.
First to 46
The Checkers' 46 games played are the most in the league and at least two more than any other team. Despite having the league's busiest schedule to this point, Charlotte's .641 percentage of possible points earned ranked fifth in the AHL.
The Checkers will get a relief from the hectic schedule in February, which features just eight games in 28 days - tied for the lightest schedule of any AHL team in that month. Following tonight's game in Oklahoma City, the Checkers are off for seven days, which is their longest break of the season.
Slow Starts, Fast Finishes
Thursday's game-winning goal with 21 seconds left in regulation continued a trend of getting better as games go on. Charlotte has an even goal differential in the first period (33 for, 33 against), a plus-1 goal differential in the second period (47 for, 46 against) and a plus-26 goal differential in the third (58 for, 32 against).
The Checkers' 58 goals scored in the third period are more than any other AHL team has scored in any period this season. Their plus-26 differential is also the best of any team in any period.
The Checkers currently rank in the AHL's top 10 in goals scored per game (3.11 - t-7th), goals allowed per game (2.52 - 6th), power-play percentage (19.4% - 9th) and penalty-killing percentage (85.9% - 4th). Only two other AHL teams, Springfield and Toronto, rank in the top 10 in all four categories.
- Chris Terry has points in each of his last three games (Jan. 25-31; 2g, 3a)
- Riley Nash has assists and points in each of his last three games (Jan 25-31; 0g, 3a)
- Bobby Raymond has game-winning goals and points in each of his last two games (Jan. 26-31; 2g, 0a)
- Tim Wallace has points in each of his last two games (Jan. 26-31; 1g, 1a)
- Jerome Samson has points in each of his last two games (Jan. 4-6; 1g, 1a)
- A.J. Jenks (upper body, Jan. 17) - missed five games
- Jerome Samson (upper body, Jan. 6) - missed 10 games
- Jan. 26 - (C) Jeremy Welsh reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
- Jan. 30 - (RW) Andreas Nodl recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
- Jan. 27 - (D) Beau Schmitz reassigned to Florida (ECHL) from Charlotte
- Jan. 27 - (RW) Matt Beca reassigned to South Carolina (ECHL) from Charlotte