Aside from breaking their three-game skid that began one week ago today, Charlotte will also be looking to top Texas for the first time in five attempts this season. After losing each of the first two games in nine-round shootouts, it has suffered consecutive regulation losses, including a 7-3 defeat on Friday, to fall to 0-2-2 in the season series.
Charlotte now trails Texas by five points in the South Division with four match-ups left to play in its final 14 games. It also holds a nine-point lead over ninth-placed Milwaukee in the Western Conference playoff race.
In a period of wild roster instability, the Checkers are expected to enjoy some relative peace this weekend. For the first time since playing back-to-back games in Abbotsford on Feb. 22 and 23, the team is expected to have the exact same group of players available for consecutive games. No further injuries or transactions with the parent club in Carolina have taken place since Friday morning.
That said, those circumstances aren’t entirely ideal for Charlotte, which would prefer to receive at least one player back from an extensive injured list that now includes 10 players. With none of those players believed to have been cleared for contact, it appears as though that will not be the case.
It’s an idea that the Checkers, again expected to use 12 players who began the season in the ECHL today, have become accustomed to.
“No one else is coming back right now,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “This is our team, and we’ve got to make it work.”
A few of those players made important offensive contributions on Friday, with forward Matt Marquardt recording a goal and an assist to give him four points (3g, 1a) in his last three games. Defenseman Beau Schmitz, playing his third game since the Checkers recalled him on Sunday, scored his first two professional goals.
In goal, the Checkers continue to use the tandem of John Muse and Rob Madore, though the lack of back-to-back games until the end of March mean that Muse could make his seventh straight start today.
Regardless of who is in the lineup, a focus for the Checkers today will be maintaining a level of confidence that they seemingly lost on Friday, as they allowed two goals less than a minute apart on three separate occasions.
“We just didn’t have the response,” said Daniels.
After an uncharacteristic five-game losing streak, the Stars have now reeled off back-to-back wins to improve to 19-5-5 in 2013. Though the Checkers had not seen Texas since before that period began and while the NHL’s lockout was still in full effect on Dec. 29, Daniels, long an admirer of the Stars, had some idea of what to expect and what his team needs to avoid.
“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.
“They have four lines that can play, their ‘D’ can move and they’ve got good goaltending. They play hard and they play fast.”
Led by Colten Sceviour’s three (2g, 1a, including a shorthanded goal), 12 different Texas skaters recorded points in Friday’s game, in which the Stars scored four times in the last 10 minutes of the third period to break open a 3-2 game. Sceviour now has 12 points (4g, 8a) in his last seven games.
As of Sunday morning, the Stars were also on track to use the same lineup, with Matt Fraser (tied for most goals among active AHL players with 28) back from Dallas. Additionally, the continued presence of Tyler Beskorowany from ECHL Idaho makes it likely that Jack Campbell will get another start in goal. Cristopher Nilstorp missed Friday’s game due to injury.
After the Stars pulled him from his previous start, Campbell, a first-round pick in 2010, stopped 26 of 29 shots against the Checkers on Friday.
Marquardt Makes his Mark
Checkers forward Matt Marquardt has goals and points in each of his last three games (3g, 1a) after recording just one point, an assist, in his previous 12 Checkers games. It marks the first time he has scored goals in three consecutive games at the AHL level, while his point streak ties his best set with Oklahoma City from March 8-11, 2011 (1g, 2a).
Marquardt, who joined the Checkers on a professional tryout contract on Feb. 8, now has 49 points (18g, 31a) in 195 career AHL games since his rookie campaign in 2008-09. He had 36 points (15g, 21a) in 44 games with the ECHL's Florida Everblades prior to joining the Checkers this season.
Schmitz Strikes Twice
Rookie defenseman Beau Schmitz recorded his first two professional goals against Texas on Friday, marking the third time this season that a Checkers defenseman scored two goals in a single game (Bobby Sanguinetti on Dec. 20 and Michal Jordan on Jan. 17).
Prior to Friday's goals, Schmitz did not have a goal in 56 total games with Charlotte and the ECHL's Florida Everblades. Over two separate AHL stints with the Checkers this season, Schmitz, who posted 54 points (14g, 40a) with the OHL's Plymouth Whalers last season, has four points (2g, 2a) in seven games.
Of the 21 players on the Checkers' current roster healthy enough to play tonight's game, only nine began the season at the AHL level with the Checkers. The other 16 players from the team's opening night roster from Oct. 13 are either injured (six - Zac Dalpe, Sean Dolan, Marc-Andre Gragnani, A.J. Jenks, Michal Jordan, and Jerome Samson) in the NHL (nine - Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk, Dan Ellis, Justin Faulk, Riley Nash, Justin Peters, Bobby Sanguinetti, Tim Wallace) or in junior hockey (Victor Rask).
Of the Checker's 188 goals scored this season, only 71 of those (37.8 percent) were scored by players available for tonight's game, with the recently-reassigned Chris Terry accounting for 22. The Checkers currently have only three of their top 15 scorers at their disposal: Chris Terry (first with 46 points), Brett Sutter (third with 36) and Jeremy Welsh (t-9th with 21).
A total of 15 players have played for both the Checkers and Hurricanes since the NHL season began in January. Carolina currently has eight players on its roster who started the season with Charlotte, with another, Zach Boychuk, currently playing for Nashville after spending time with the Hurricanes in January.
With 14 games to play, the fourth-seeded Checkers currently have a nine-point lead over ninth-place Milwuakee in the Western Conference. The Checkers are also five points behind Texas, which has a game in hand, for the South Division lead and a guaranteed spot in the top three.
The Checkers have 75 points through 62 games this season, putting them three points ahead of last season's total at the same point in their schedule. The 2011-12 Checkers would go on to win just six of their last 14 games (6-7-1) to miss the playoffs by a single point.
PK is OK
The Checkers, in a three-way tie for the AHL's best penalty-killing record at 86.7 percent, have allowed just two power-play goals in their last 12 games dating back to Feb. 16. During that time, they have killed 45 of 47 power plays (95.7 percent).
Charlotte, which has the league's second-best disciplinary record with an average of 12.6 penalty minutes per game, has been in shorthanded situations 240 times this season, which is tied for the fifth-fewest in the AHL.
Along with Springfield, the Checkers are one of only two AHL teams to rank in the top 10 in goals per game (8th - 3.03), goals allowed per game (t-10th - 2.66), power play (5th - 20.4 percent) and penalty killing (t-1st - 86.7 percent).
Seven of the Checkers' next 10 games, including five at home, will be played against South Division opponents - a run will conclude the team's slate of divisional games this season. The Checkers are 13-9-3 against the South Division this season and currently trail first-place Texas, who they play four times in the next five weeks, by five points with one more game played.
Matt Marquardt has goals and points in each of his last three games (March 10-15; 3g, 1a)
Brett Sutter has points in each of his last two games (March 13-15; 1g, 2a)
Bobby Raymond has assists and points in each of his last two games (March 13-15; 0g, 2a)
Jerome Samson has points in each of his last two games (Jan. 4-6; 1g, 1a)
Danny Biega (March 13) - missed one game
Sean Dolan (March 10) - missed two games
Luke Pither (March 10) - missed two games
Michal Jordan (March 10) - missed two games
Marc-Andre Gragnani (March 9) - missed three games
Justin Shugg (March 4) - missed five games
Zac Dalpe (March 1) - missed seven games
Andreas Nodl (March 1) - missed seven games, out for season
A.J. Jenks (Jan. 17) - missed 21 games
Jerome Samson (Jan. 6) - missed 26 games
March 15 - (LW) Chris Terry reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
March 15 - (D) Tommi Kivisto recalled to Charlotte from Florida (ECHL)
March 13 - (D) Danny Biega signed to amateur tryout contract
March 12 - (LW) C.J. Severyn signed to professional tryout contract
March 12 - (C) Casey Pierro-Zabotel signed to professional tryout contract
March 10 - (D) Beau Schmitz recalled to Charlotte from Florida (ECHL)