Charlotte fell by a 3-2 score in the first meeting on Saturday, despite goals by Jared Staal and Zac Dalpe. It marked the second consecutive game that the Rampage have won in the season series, which began with three straight Charlotte wins in San Antonio.
Following tonight’s game – the Checkers’ last home game until March 3 – the teams will face off two more times to complete their eight-game series at the end of March.
During the team’s longest break of the season – a seven-day hiatus between a 7-3 loss in Oklahoma City on Feb. 1 and their game on Saturday – coach Jeff Daniels expressed concern about his team’s intensity level. Still, he wouldn’t list that as the primary reason for what he considered to be a poor showing in game one against the Rampage.
“No excuses,” he said. “We got to be desperate like we want to get into the playoffs, and we weren’t tonight.”
“It was effort, and we didn’t get to the details of the game that we needed to,” said Brett Sutter.
The loss dropped the Checkers to 2-4-0 in their last six games, giving them a six-point lead over eighth-place Rochester for the Western Conference's final playoff position.
Despite their disappointment, the Checkers again came close to completing a two-goal, third-period comeback, with Dalpe, playing his first AHL game since Jan. 13 following an NHL stint, extending his point streak to six games (6g, 4a) on a goal to make it 3-2 with seven minutes to go. Chris Terry also found the score sheet with an assist to extend his own productive streak to five games (3g, 6a).
In goal, Justin Peters made 18 saves as the Checkers out-shot San Antonio 31-21, including a 12-3 advantage in the second period as the home team came up empty on around three minutes of consecutive power play time that included approximately one and a half minutes of a two-man advantage.
The Checkers finished the game 0-for-5 on the power play in addition to giving up a shorthanded goal to Greg Rallo in the first period.
“We were a minus on the power play tonight,” said Sutter.
With the Checkers currently in the lightest portion of their schedule, it’s possible that Peters could make his sixth start of the season against San Antonio ahead of backup John Muse today. Peters is 3-2-0 with a 2.97 goals-against average and .890 save percentage in five previous meetings.
Though the Rampage did a good job of taking advantage of their scoring opportunities, including two goals in a three-and-a-half-minute span that broke a 1-1 tie midway through the third period, their defensive effort stole the show on Saturday.
The San Antonio penalty kill, its best statistical asset heading into the game, lived up to its billing by killing all five Charlotte power plays and scoring its seventh shorthanded goal of the season, which is tied for fourth most in the AHL. The unit ranks fourth in the AHL with an 85.7 percent success rate.
Additionally, 6-foot-6 goalie Jacob Markstrom did his part, stopping 29 of 31 shots to earn the win. In his last three starts against the Checkers, Markstrom is 2-1-0 with a 2.01 goals-against average and a .948 save percentage. In one of those games, he made 49 saves to help the Rampage win 5-2 despite being out-shot 51-31.
“Markstrom’s one of the best goalies in the league,” said Daniels. “He’s big and he doesn’t show you a lot of the net. He made some big saves today.”
If the Rampage decide to give Markstrom a rest, Dov Grumet-Morris (6-8-2 with a 2.44 goals-agianst average and .919 save percentage) would get the start today.
During his first-ever meeting with his brother Riley, a Checkers forward, defenseman Brendon Nash earned an assist to create a two-game point streak (1g, 1a). Riley would later pick up the primary assist on Dalpe’s goal, putting the brothers on even points heading into today’s rematch.
Checkers forward Zac Dalpe scored a goal Saturday, extending his point streak to a season-long six games (6g, 4a) that ties the longest of his career, a six-game run from Jan. 7-17 of last season (5g, 3a). The streak, which began with a two-goal performance in Lake Erie on Jan. 4, has lasted over a month due to a six-game NHL stint that ran from Jan. 19-Feb. 2. It is tied for the second-longest active streak in the league, one game behind Oklahoma City (and now Edmonton Oilers) forward Jordan Eberle.
Dalpe, who posted two assists in six NHL games with Carolina, ranks tied for third on the team in scoring with 29 points (14g, 15a) in 39 games and leads the team with a plus-14 (t-13th AHL) rating and 131 shots on goal (t-13th AHL). His seven shots on Saturday tied a season high.
A Major Plus
In less than a month, Checkers defenseman Justin Krueger has improved his plus-minus rating from minus-4 (Jan. 4) to his current mark of plus-13, which is tied for seventh among AHL defensemen. He posted a rating of even or better in 13 of those 14 games, including a three-game stretch from Jan. 4-11 where he posted a cumulative rating of plus-7.
Krueger currently ranks second on the team in plus/minus, one point behind forward Zac Dalpe. Krueger is the Checkers' all-time plus/minus leader, having posted a team-best, plus-16 rating last season.
Checkers forward Chris Terry recorded an assist on Saturday to extend his point streak to five games (3g, 6a). The streak is his third of five or more games this season and two games shy of a season-high, seven-game streak set from Oct. 21-Nov. 16. Dating back to Dec. 30, Terry, the team's scoring leader with 36 points, has 20 (7g, 13a) in his last 16 games.
Nash's Home Helpers
Checkers forward Riley Nash has assists in each of his last five home games (six assists total), which ties him for the second-longest home assist streak in the AHL. Nash, who has six assists in that time, leads the team with 21 assists on the season, extending his single-season career high.
Forward Jared Staal scored his third goal of the season on Saturday, tying his single-season career high at the AHL level. Two of those goals have come in his last five games, marking the shortest time between goals of his three AHL seasons.
Two of the AHL's top four teams, the Checkers and the Texas Stars, call the South Division home. The Stars currently lead Charlotte by two points, giving the Checkers a chance to pull back into a tie for first place in the league with a win today.
Through the season's first 47 games, the Checkers played just 18 games within their division (10-5-3), by far the fewest of any team from the South. They make up for that in their final 29 contests, 14 of which will be played against divisional opponents.
Zac Dalpe has points in each of his last six games (Jan. 4-Feb. 9; 6g, 4a) and goals in each of his last two (Jan. 13-Feb. 9; 2g, 0a)
Chris Terry has points in each of his last five games (Jan. 25-Feb. 9; 3g, 6a) and assists in each of his last four (Jan. 26-Feb. 9: 1g, 6a)
Luke Pither has assists and points in each of his last two games (Feb. 1-0; 1g, 2a)
Justin Krueger has assists and point in each of his last two games (Feb. 1-9; 0g, 2a)
Jerome Samson has points in each of his last two games (Jan. 4-6; 1g, 1a)
David Rutherford (upper body, Feb. 5) - missed one game
A.J. Jenks (upper body, Jan. 17) - missed seven games
Jerome Samson (upper body, Jan. 6) - missed 12 games
Feb. 8 - (LW) Matt Marquardt signed to professional tryout contract
Feb. 3 - (F) Zac Dalpe reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
Feb. 3 - (RW) Tim Wallace recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte