Having spoken of the need to correct costly breakdowns in their game, the Checkers instead suffered from more of the same on Friday.
Rookie defenseman Beau Schmitz scored his first two professional goals and Matt Marquardt added another as Charlotte fell 7-3 to Texas to start a two-game weekend set at Time Warner Cable Arena. Having entered the miniseries looking to possibly overtake the Stars for the South Division lead, the Checkers, who now trail by five points, will now be hoping to break even with a win in Sunday afternoon’s rematch.
John Muse stopped 19 of 25 shots for Charlotte, which suffered its third consecutive loss, all at home. The streak is the longest since the team dropped a team-record five straight in Charlotte from Nov. 24-Dec. 6. The Checkers also remain winless against Texas this season (0-2-2), with the teams scheduled to meet four more times between Sunday and April 12.
Past the point of making excuses for a depleted lineup that saw 10 players miss the game due to injury with even more on recalls to the NHL, coach Jeff Daniels remained focused on getting the best results possible from a lineup that featured 12 players who began the season in the ECHL.
“The mistakes we’re making right now, you can’t make them against anyone let alone a great team like Texas,” he said. “They’re in first place for a reason.”
Those mistakes tended to come in bunches, with the Stars scoring goals less than a minute apart on three separate occasions. The first flurry came in the second period, when Carl Sneep received too much time to pick a spot to beat Muse and Colton Sceviour scored his second of the game on a shorthanded two-on-one 50 seconds later to give his team a 3-1 lead.
Though the Checkers would get a seemingly huge goal by Marquardt to stop the bleeding early in the third period, his third tally in as many games, Texas went even further ahead when Francis Wathier capitalized on a turnover right in front of the Checkers’ net for an easy goal, with Travis Morin scoring on a deflection 30 seconds later.
“We just didn’t have the response,” said Daniels. “I don’t know if it’s confidence, but we didn’t get it done.”
“We’ve got to stay up on the bench and keep talking,” said Schmitz, who scored on a well-placed wrist shot in the second period to tie the game at 1-1 and on a slapper from the left circle in the third to make it 5-2. “We can’t let it get us down because goals are going to happen.”
With the game already out of reach, the third Texas onslaught added a final insult. Forty-seven seconds after Morin scores his second of the game into the empty net, Toby Petersen scored on Muse in the final minute to mark the third time the Checkers have given up seven goals this season – a season high.
The goal scorers were among the few bright spots for Charlotte. Schmitz, playing his third game since the Checkers recalled him on Sunday, now has four points (2g, 2a) in seven AHL games this season – a pace that far exceeds the eight points, all assists, he recorded in 50 games with the Florida Everblades.
“It’s funny how that works,” he said. “I don’t get one all year and then I get two in the same game.”
Meanwhile, Marquardt, a 6-foot-3, 229-pound Everblades forward in Charlotte on a professional tryout contract, has four points in his last three games (3g, 1a) after recording a single assist in his previous 11.
“He’s been real strong the last couple of games,” said Daniels. “He’s a big body and all of his goals have come right in front of the net where he needs to be.”
With more new faces contributing like that, the Checkers may soon climb out of their funk, though they’ll need to be just as responsible in their own end. Daniels said that issue is not limited to his ECHL recalls, however.
“It’s a bit of it, but everyone can be better,” he said. “No one else is coming back right now. This is our team, and we’ve got to make it work.”
They’ll have to do so against a Texas team that has now won two in a row, restoring their status as one of the league’s hottest teams after climbing out of an uncharacteristic winless streak last week.
“They have four lines that can play, their ‘D’ can move and they’ve got good goaltending,” said Daniels. “They play hard and they play fast.”
“They’re consistent, they played 60 minutes and we didn’t, they were patient and we were not” said alternate captain Nicolas Blanchard.
The Checkers' post-game auction of their special Old-Time Hockey Jerseys raised $18,600 for charity ... The Hanson Brothers from the movie "Slap Shot" appeared at the game ... Checkers defenseman Tommi Kivisto, recalled earlier in the day, played his first Checkers home game after suiting up for his first 11 on the road … Brett Sutter was the only Checker with a positive plus/minus rating (plus-1) … Four Checkers (Justin Krueger, David Marshall, Bobby Raymond and Chris Terry) had a minus-3 rating … Marquardt took a game-high seven shots on goal … The Checkers out-shot an opposing team for just the second time in their last 14 games … Fans named Schmitz the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game.