The Checkers conclude their three-day, three-game trip through Texas with tonight’s match-up against the San Antonio Rampage.
The game is a quick rematch of the Checkers’ 4-3 win in San Antonio on Friday that saw Charlotte score three goals in the first five minutes of the third period to rally from what had been a 2-0 deficit. In the meantime, the Checkers travelled to nearby Austin for a 1-0, nine-round shootout loss to the Texas Stars, while the Rampage, who kicked off the love triangle with a loss at Texas on Thursday, were off Saturday.
Charlotte will be looking to secure a point in the standings for the fifth straight game, having gone 3-0-1 in its last four. After the game, the Checkers briefly return to Charlotte before concluding their four-game road swing in Norfolk on Wednesday.
At least for one game, what had been the AHL’s best offense came up empty as the Checkers suffered their first shutout of the season against Cristopher Nilstorp and the Stars on Saturday. Nilstorp made 22 saves for his second shutout in as many games, spoiling Dan Ellis’ second shutout of the season at the other end.
The Checkers, who had scored four or more goals in nine of their previous 10 games, fell to No. 3 in AHL scoring with an average of 3.60 goals per game. Having shown the ability to erase sluggish offense stretches in short order, as they did once again in Friday’s early-third-period outburst in San Antonio, the Checkers never quite hit their stride in Texas, firing a season-low 22 shots and going 0-for-4 on the power play against what had been the league’s last-ranked penalty kill.
After his 30 saves on Saturday, Ellis, a 32-year-old NHL veteran, now ranks third in AHL goals-against average (1.67) and save percentage (.947). Despite those statistics, Ellis, who now has a record of 4-2- 2, has been in goal for four of the five games in which the team has failed to record a victory. With a record of 6-1-1 including wins in each of his last four starts, Justin Peters, who is likely to get the start tonight, has enjoyed a considerably higher amount of goal support.
With the organization hesitant to play him three times in three nights, defenseman Justin Faulk, a member of the NHL’s All- Rookie Team last season, could sit out tonight’s game as a healthy scratch. With Marc-Andre Gragnani out with a lower-body injury, rookie defenseman Tommi Kivisto, recalled from the ECHL’s Florida Everblades on Saturday, would make his AHL debut in that scenario.
Kivisto, a 21-year-old, seventh-round Carolina draft pick in 2009, has seven points (2g, 5a) and a -4 rating in 14 games with the Everblades. Though he’s played parts of the last three seasons with Jokerit in Finland’s top division, this season marks Kivisto’s North American debut.
Friday’s loss to Charlotte marked the fourth defeat in a row for San Antonio, which now occupies last place in the Western Conference with nine points (4-8-1). Overall, the Rampage have just two victories in their last nine games.
Though the Rampage are one of the younger teams in the AHL with seven rookies, two of them were responsible for the bulk of the team’s scoring against Charlotte on Friday. Scoring leader Drew Shore, a second-round pick of Florida in 2009, got things started on the power play before Quinton Howden, a first-rounder in 2010, opened a 2-0, second-period lead for the league’s 24th-ranked offensive team.
With top prospect Jacob Markstrom having played each of the team’s last two games, including a 25-save performance against Charlotte, the rampage could turn to veteran Dov Grumet-Morris tonight. Grumet-Morris, who gave up seven goals on 30 shots in his last game against Houston on Nov. 13, has the superior statistics between the two San Antonio stoppers (2.15 goals-against average, .929 save percentage).
Friday's shutout, shootout loss in Texas marked just the second time that the Checkers scored fewer than four goals in their last 11 games. In terms of goals per game, the Checkers are third in the AHL with an average of 3.60 but have a scored a league-leading 54 goals in 15 outings. They also own two of the best period-by-period marks in the league, as their 24 third-period goals are the most by any team in any period and their 22 second-period goals are tied for second- highest.
In Drayson Bowman (t-1st, 10 goals), Zach Boychuk (t-3rd, nine goals) and Chris Terry (t-13th, seven goals), the Checkers boast three of the AHL's top 20 goal scorers. Together with their 5th-ranked defense (an average of 2.40 goals allowed per game), the Checkers own the league's third-best goal differential at +18, trailing only Springfield's +26 and Abbotsford's +23. Charlotte is the only AHL team to rank in the top five in both offense and defense.
Ellis Shuts the Door
In his first eight AHL games played since the 2007 Calder Cup Playoffs, Checkers goalie Dan Ellis ranks third in the league in both goals-against average (1.67) and save percentage (.947). He is also tied for fourth with two shutouts, including the second time a Checkers goalie has recorded a loss in the shootout despite stopping all shots that came his way in regulation and overtime (John Muse at Chicago, Feb. 18, 2012).
Despite his superior statisics, Ellis, who has a record of 4-2-2 this season, has been in goal for four of the five games in which the Checkers did not record a victory. Meanwhile, partner Justin Peters, who has a 2.86 goals-against average and .902 save percentage, is 6-1 -1 with wins in each of his last four starts.
Dating back to last season, the Checkers have lost six of their last seven shootouts, including two nine-round losses in Texas this season, to fall to 11-15 over the course of their three AHL seasons.
Dan Ellis was in goal for each of the team's shootouts this season, stopping 14 of 18 shooters. Meanwhile, forward Jerome Samson is the only Checker to score a shootout goal this season, having converted both of his attempts. Samson has now scored on each of his last three attempts after starting his AHL career scoreless in five opportunities.
Peters Joins the Offense
Goalie Justin Peters earned his third assist of the season on Friday, the most he's earned during any of his six professional seasons. Peters now has more helpers than a handful of his teammates, including Drayson Bowman, Jeremy Welsh and Tim Wallace, who all see time on the power play. Peters, who has won each of his last four starts, has now tied the Checkers' single-season record for assists by a goalie set by Mike Murphy in 2010-11. Peters, who once scored a playoff goal in junior hockey, now has eight career assists at the AHL level.
Sharing the Wealth
The Checkers are one of just two AHL teams (Portland) with five players that have scored at least five goals (Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk, Zac Dalpe, Brett Sutter and Chris Terry). Add team scoring leader Justin Faulk to that group, and the Chekers are one of five teams (Grand Rapids, Lake Erie, Rochester and Syracuse) that have at least six different players that have hit double digits in points. With the exception of Justin Soryal, who has played just two games this season, every player who has suited up for the Checkers in 2012- 13, including goalies Dan Ellis and Justin Peters, has recorded at least one point.
Boychuk in the Clutch
Zach Boychuk's overtime goal on Nov. 15 was his fourth game-winning goal of the season, giving him sole possession of the AHL lead and putting him one shy of his own single-season team record set during the 2010-11 season. Boychuk, who tied for the team lead with three game-winning goals last season, is the Checkers' all-time leader in the category with a total of 12 in 137 games played.
Now second on the team and tied for third in the league with nine goals, Boychuk is tied for 12th in overall league scoring.
Charlotte leads the AHL with a 27.1 percent success rate on the man advantage (19 goals on 70 chances). Though the team has had several contributors (11 different Checkers have scored at least one power- play goal, more than any other team), it also features some of the league's top individual performers on the man advantage. Drayson Bowman and Zach Boychuk are tied for third in goals (4), Marc-Andre Gragnani is tied for fourth in assists (7) and Boychuk is tied for fourth in total points (9).
The Checkers are currently playing the third of seven sets of three games in three nights this season, having gone 1-0-1 with a win in San Antonio on Friday and a shootout loss in Texas on Saturday. This season, they are 6-1-1 in games that are part of a three-in-three set, including a 3-0-0 mark in Game One, a 2-0-1 mark in Game Two and a 1- 1-0 mark in Game Three. All time, the Checkers are 31-20-5 in those games, including a 10-7-2 record in Game One, a 13-3-3 record in Game Two and an 8-10-0 record in Game Three.
- Justin Peters has wins in each of his last four games (Oct. 28-Nov. 16)
- The Checkers have points in each of their last four games (Nov. 8-17; 3-0-1)
- Jerome Samson scored his 100th point as a Checker with a goal at SA (11/16)
- Marc-Andre Gragnani (lower-body, 11/8) – missed two games