The Checkers look to continue their strong start to the season and sweep a three-in-three weekend for the first time in their history when they play a rematch in Rockford tonight.
Charlotte’s 2-1 win against the IceHogs on Saturday brought it to 3-0-1 on the season and on the nine-game road swing that takes it up to the home opener on Nov. 4. A shootout loss in Texas last week represents the only point the Checkers have lost thus far despite facing teams charged up for their first home game in each contest.
Following tonight’s game, the Checkers return home only to depart for another three-in-three set that will take them through Grand Rapids and Peoria and to another game in Milwaukee three days later.
No Checker is enjoying the current leg of the road trip more than Drayson Bowman, who has scored all three of his goals in the last two games to take sole possession of the team lead. For the season, only five AHL players have scored more, with Rochester’s Marcus Foligno leading the way with five.
Bowman provided all the offense in Saturday’s win over Rockford, with IceHogs goalie Carter Hutton making 40 saves to otherwise thwart the Checkers. Charlotte’s goaltending was also excellent, with Dan Ellis shaking off Rockford’s first goal to stand tall down the stretch and help his team kill a few key penalties late in the game.
Despite Ellis making 35 saves to earn his first AHL victory since May 10, 2007, the Checkers are likely to turn back to Justin Peters to complete the three-in-three set. It seems that either choice would be a good one, with Peters holding a 2.00 goals-against average and .926 save percentage while going 2-0-0 on the new season.
Defenseman Justin Faulk, day-to-day with a muscle strain suffered in Milwaukee on Friday, could make his return to the lineup after sitting out Saturday’s win. Another potential change is at center, where A.J. Jenks earned an assist in his season debut on Saturday after sitting out the first three games. Rookie Victor Rask, who had previously occupied that spot, scored his first professional goal on Friday.
Saturday’s win dropped the IceHogs to 0-3-1 on the season, making them one of five AHL teams still looking for their first victory. However, all of their games have been about as close as Saturday’s against the Checkers, with three of their losses coming by one goal and a third by just two.
All AHL teams have at least a player or two who would otherwise be in the NHL if not for its lockout, and two IceHogs players, center Marcus Kruger and defenseman Nick Leddy, combined to score their goal against the Checkers on Saturday. Those two are now tied for the team lead with three points apiece, with Kruger and Jeremy Morin tied with two goals. Leddy’s three assists lead the team, which otherwise ranks last in the AHL in offense with an average of 1.25 goals per game.
Another bright spot has been the team’s penalty kill, which ranks third in the AHL at 95.8 percent. Despite allowing Bowman to score on the power play on Saturday, the IceHogs killed nearly three total minutes of five-on-three power plays and have allowed just one goal on 24 chances.
Rockford will have a decision to make in goal, with Hutton having played all four of the team’s games thus far. He’s been very good despite not earning a victory to this point, posting a 2.24 goals-against average and .929 save percentage, including opening night when he recorded a shutout in a 0-0 game only to then lose in the shootout. Backup Alec Richards has not played an AHL game since beating the Checkers in Charlotte on Jan. 27 of last season.
With a win tonight, the Checkers would sweep a set of three games in three nights for the first time in their three-year history as an AHL franchise. Their best previous finish was 2-0-1, which they accomplished three times in their inaugural season. The Checkers, who play seven three-in-threes this season, are 27-19-4 all-time in games that are part of a three-in-three set, with a record of 8-7-2 in Game One, 12-3-2 in Game Two and 7-9-0 in Game Three.
Despite being the only team in the league that has yet to play a home game, the Checkers (3-0-1) are one of just five AHL teams that has yet to suffer a regulation loss. They are in a three-way tie for third in the league in total points (seven), trailing only Chicago (4-1-0) and Norfolk (4-0-0). They already enjoy a three-point lead in the South Division, with the other four teams all sporting a record of 2-2-0.
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. Though he did not find the score sheet for the first time this season on Saturday in Rockford, he took a game-high eight shots that tied his career high set last season.
The Checkers have five players tied for second on the team in scoring with three points, three of which are defensemen: Justin Faulk (3a), Marc-Andre Gragnani (3a) and Bobby Sanguinetti (1g, 2a). Gragnani, an offfseason signing who won the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL's best defenseman two seasons ago, has scored all of his points in the team's last two games. Only two other AHL teams (Manchester: David Kolomatis, Jake Muzzin, Slava Voynov; Rochester: T.J. Brennan, Mark Pysyk, Brayden McNabb) have three defensemen with three or more points.
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 3-0-1 to start this season's swing.
- Justin Peters has won each of his last two starts in goal (Oct. 14-19; 2-0-0)
- Drayson Bowman has goals and points in each of his last two games (Oct. 19-20; 3g)
- Zac Dalpe has assists and points in each of his last two games (Oct. 19-20; 3a)
- Marc-Andre Gragnani has assists and points in each of his last two games (Oct. 19-20; 3a)
- Justin Faulk - muscle strain, missed one game