The Checkers, off to the best start in their three-year history at 2-0-1, will look to continue that momentum as they continue a three-in-three set with tonight’s game in Rockford.
In the midst of a team-record-tying, nine-game road swing to start the season, Charlotte will play the first of back-to-back games against the IceHogs tonight. The games, including tonight’s home opener for Rockford, are the first of four meetings between the former Midwest Division rivals this season, with Charlotte going 6-1-1 in eight meetings last season.
Both teams enter tonight’s game having traveled the night before, with Charlotte claiming a 4-3 win in Milwaukee and Rockford suffering a 2-1 loss at Peoria to fall to 0-2-1 on the season.
Friday’s game in Milwaukee was something of a familiar story for the Checkers, with the team jumping out to a multi-goal lead that it would have to protect during some nervous moments in the third period.
After Drayson Bowman and Sean Dolan struck just under two minutes apart to break a 1-1 tie late in the second period and scoring leader Zach Boychuk added another to make it 4-1 early in the third, the Admirals made things interesting late, scoring two power play goals in the final 10 minutes.
That continued a recent trend of late penalty trouble for the Checkers, who now rank tied for third in the AHL with 26 minor penalties, 14 of which have come during third periods.
Center Victor Rask, a 19-year-old who could either stay with Charlotte or return to his junior team in Calgary of the Western Hockey Leauge at any time, opened the scoring with his first professional goal and point midway through the first period on Friday.
The Checkers may be without top defenseman Justin Faulk, who suffered a muscle strain in Milwaukee and is officially day-to-day. If he is unable to play, Justin Krueger, who sat out Friday’s game as a healthy scratch, would re-enter the lineup.
Dan Ellis will likely get the start in goal tonight, with Justin Peters making 23 saves to improve to 2-0-0 on Friday.
Though the stats say that the Checkers posted a dominant record against a team that finished last in its division last season, a closer look tells a different story. Four of the eight meetings with Rockford last season went to the shootout, with the Checkers emerging with a 6-1-1 head-to-head record.
“Rockford always struck me as a really heard-working young team,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels, who saw six of the eight meetings settled by one goal, with a 3-0 Checkers win on April 10 by far the closest thing to a blowout. “All of our games were really close, and now they’ve got some guys that have played in Chicago.”
Forward Marcus Kruger and defenseman Nick Leddy are two players who would be with the NHL’s Blackhawks if not for the work stoppage. Kruger, a 22-year-old center, spent all of his rookie season in the NHL, scoring 26 points in 71 games last season after beginning his pro career in Sweden. After splitting his first pro season between Chicago and Rockford in 2010-11, Leddy, a first-round pick of the Minnesota Wild in 2009, played all 82 games with the Blackhawks last season, scoring 37 points in 82 games.
Those two are joined by veteran NHL defenseman Brett Lebda, a former Detroit Red Wing who split last season between Columbus and its AHL affiliate in Springfield. In addition, many of last season’s top players, including forwards Brandon Pirri, Andrew Shaw and Ben Smith, return for another season.
Carter Hutton, last season’s starter, has been in goal for all three IceHogs games thus far, including a rare shutout loss as his team fell 1-0 to Chicago in the shootout on opening night. Another returning goalie, Alec Richards, could play tonight with the IceHogs also in the midst of a three-in-three set.
Though disappointed with a start that leaves them as one of just six winless AHL teams through three games, the IceHogs penalty kill is clicking early, having killed all 18 power plays against.
Checkers forward Zach Boychuk scored points in each of the team's first three games (2g, 3a) to become the team's early scoring leader. On Oct. 14, Boychuk, who led the team with 65 points in 2010-11 and with 21 goals in 2011-12, recorded his first three-point night since April 1, 2011, having scored two points on 13 different occasions last season. Boychuk enters the week in a five-way tie for third in AHL scoring and is tied for the league lead in power-play assists (3).
After finishing last season with 44 points in his last 44 games, defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti has started the new season with three points in his first three (1g, 2a). His two-assist performance on Friday was his first multi-point game of the season and marked the third time that a Checkers defenseman has recorded a multi-point game in 2012-13 (Justin Faulk on Oct. 13; Marc-Andre Gragnani on Oct. 19).
The Checkers have scored six goals and allowed five goals in third periods this season (11 total), both of which are more than in their first two periods combined. Just one first-period goal has been scored in Checkers games this season (1GF, 0GA), while five total goals have been scored in second periods (3GF, 2GA).
Sunday's shootout loss in Texas dropped the Checkers to 1-5 in their last six shootouts dating back to last season. The team is now 11-14 in shootouts over the course of its three AHL seasons. Four of eight meetings against Rockford last season went to the shootout, with the Checkers winning three.
Starting with this weekend's trip through Milwaukee and Rockford, the Checkers will play three games in three nights seven times this season, down from the eight they played in each of their first two AHL campaigns. The Checkers are 26-19-4 all-time in games that are part of a three-in-three set, with a record of 8-7-2 in Game One, 11-3-2 in Game Two and 7-9-0 in Game Three.
The Checkers begin the 2012-13 campaign with a nine-game road swing that ties a team record set in October and November of last season. They finished that trip with a record of 5-4-0 en route to a 20-13-5 record for the entire season, and are 2-0-1 to start this season's swing.
Continuing with tonight's game in Rockford, each of the Checkers' first four games of the season will mark the opposing team's home opener. The Checkers' home opener on Nov. 4 is the latest of any AHL team, with the next-latest coming two weeks earlier on Oct. 20 when Hershey, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Worcester all play at home for the first time.
- Zach Boychuk has points in each of his last three games (Oct. 13-19; 2g, 3a)
- Bobby Sanguinetti has points in each of his last two games (Oct. 14-19; 1g, 2a)
- Riley Nash has points in each of his last two games (Oct. 14-19; 1g, 1a)
- Justin Peters has won each of his last two starts in goal (Oct. 14-19; 2-0-0)
- Justin Faulk - muscle strain, day-to-day (left Oct. 19 game at Milwaukee and did not return)