As well as the Checkers’ offense clicked one night earlier, they would have been better served saving a few goals for later.
After scoring eight times in a blowout win over Milwaukee on Saturday, the Checkers narrowly avoided being shut out in a 2-1 loss to Grand Rapids Sunday afternoon. The result halted a three-game winning streak for Charlotte, which concluded the first leg of its three-game road swing with a record of 2-1-0.
Jeremy Welsh scored with 2:13 remaining, his third goal in two games, and Justin Peters made 24 saves in a game that featured three odd goals and very few scoring chances either way. The best chance of the game came on a Griffins penalty shot, which Peters thwarted by forcing Luke Glendening to shoot wide after Chris Terry had hauled him down on a shorthanded breakaway in the second period.
NHL veteran Jonas Gustavsson, on a conditioning stint from the Detroit Red Wings, made 26 saves in his only competitive start at any level this season. He seemed to have a sure shutout going until Welsh threw a puck on net from a sharp angle that somehow found its way in, setting up a close finish.
Welsh’s goal prevented the Checkers for being shut out for just the second time this season and first since a 1-0 shootout loss to Texas back on Nov. 17. It also made him the seventh Checker to hit the 10-goal mark this season.
The goal was similar to the Griffins’ first, a shot from Triston Grant just 2:39 into the first period. Grant, straddling the goal line as he curled along the wall from behind the net, sent a shot on net that snuck by Peters, possibly deflecting through traffic in front.
The eventual winner was also unexpected, as Andrej Nestrasil intercepted a Checkers’ clearing attempt in the neutral zone and fired it on net from just inside the blue line for his first of his AHL career. The shot may have been deflected by a Checkers defender just after the point of release, causing it to sail high over Peters’ glove.
The Checkers’ league-best road power play, which had scored on 11 of its previous 21 opportunities, was also unable to get going on Sunday. After setting a franchise record with five goals on Saturday, it went scoreless in three attempts against the Griffins while also giving up the penalty shot to Glendening.
The penalty shot was the first against the Checkers since Peters stopped Norfolk’s Alexandre Picard in the opening game of last season on Oct. 7, 2011. In three AHL seasons, the Checkers have stopped three of four penalty shots against.
Charlotte, which rode an overnight bus into Grand Rapids while the Griffins were idle on Sunday, was playing without center Riley Nash, who was a healthy scratch ahead of a likely recall to join the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes in Montreal on Monday. Nash, the Checkers’ second-highest scorer with a career-high 35 points in 50 games, was coming off a four-point performance (2g, 2a) on Saturday that set a personal best and tied a franchise record.
The Checkers also played the second half of the game without center Luke Pither, who left the game due to an apparent injury in the second period and did not return. Pither entered the game with 12 points in his first 12 AHL games of the season.
Charlotte now returns home for a few days before making its longest road trip of the season in terms of miles traveled for a back-to-back set in Abbotsford, British Columbia, later this week.
Welsh set a career high with a game-best six shots on goal … Marc-Andre Gragnani assisted on that goal, giving him assists in each of his last three games (four assists total) … After winning their first six games against the Griffins over the last two seasons, the Checkers have now lost each of the last two meetings … The Checkers fell to 17-7-4 on the road this season … Forward Zac Dalpe played the entire game after leaving Saturday’s game with a lower-body injury … Forwards A.J. Jenks, David Rutherford and Jerome Samson missed the game due to injury.
North Carolina Education Lottery Three Stars
1. Jonas Gustavsson (Grand Rapids)
2. Triston Grant (Grand Rapids)
3. Andrej Nestrasil