The Checkers continue a weekend match-up of two of the AHL’s top teams as they play their second game against the Oklahoma City Barons today.
Charlotte (12-4-2) suffered its fourth regulation loss of the season and second in the month of November in Saturday’s 4-2 loss at the hands of the Barons. Thanks to Oklahoma City’s empty-net goal in the final minute, the game marked the first time that the Checkers had lost by more than one goal, while also ending their six-game point streak (5-0-1).
Sunday’s game is the second in the eight-game season series with the Barons and the second in Charlotte’s season-long, 10-game home stand that runs through mid-December.
Contrary to their three previous losses, the Checkers weren’t terribly upset with the way they played on Saturday. After all, they had hit four goal posts in what was essentially a one-goal loss prior to Colten Teubert’s empty-netter in the final minute.
Instead, they mostly gave credit to the Barons’ big four of NHL talent, which combined for eight points on the team’s first three goals.
“You play them as hard as you can, but at times you can’t do anything about it,” said Checkers forward Zach Boychuk of the Barons group of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz.
Boychuk and roommate Zac Dalpe provided the bulk of the Checkers’ offense on Saturday, as each scored one goal to go along with a handful of scoring chances against reigning AHL Goalie of the Year Yann Danis. Like the rest of their team, those two were out to prove that they could match up with the AHL’s biggest names.
"We can play with them,” said Dalpe. “We're at the top of the league for a reason and we've got to do what they did and use that confidence.”
Dan Ellis, who ranks third in the AHL with a .948 save percentage, will almost certainly get the start tonight for the Checkers, who fell to second place in the league on Saturday. Defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani is a game-time decision after missing the team’s last six games with a lower-body injury.
In ending the Checkers’ six-game point streak, the Barons hit that same mark on Saturday.
Having gotten off to a .500 start as their NHL players were still hitting their stride, the Barons are 5-0-1 since Nov. 10, including wins in four straight. That brings their overall record to 10-5-2 as they trail the Checkers by four points in the South Division with one fewer game played.
At the individual level, Schultz (25 points), Eberle (23) and Nugent-Hopkins (20) are three of the league’s top four scorers, with Hall missing from that group only due to the fact that he missed eight games while recovering from offseason surgery.
Along with the performance of those players, including a highlight-reel goal from Eberle in the third period, one of the Barons’ brightest spots on Saturday was the penalty kill. Having entered the game ranked 28th in the league, they were a perfect 6-for-6 against the Checkers’ No. 1 power play, including two separate five-on-threes of at least one minute.
That knocked the Checkers out of the league’s top spot in terms of power-play percentage for the first time in several weeks as part of a 5-for-37 slide (13.5 percent).
“I don’t think (the power play) was why we lost the game, but it didn’t help,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels.
Danis, who has played in 13 of the Barons’ 17 games, could again get the start today. Backup Olivier Roy has not played since allowing three goals on 10 shots before giving way to Danis against Toronto on Nov. 13.
Checkers forwards Drayson Bowman and Zach Boychuk are in a four-way tie for first in the AHL with 11 goals apiece. Both players are on pace to break their personal bests of 17 (Bowman) and 22 goals (Boychuk) at the AHL level, as well as Chris Terry's team record of 34 goals set two seasons ago. With eight goals in 15 games, Terry himself (t-15th AHL) is on pace to break that record.
The Checkers, who rank second in the AHL with 26 points, are one of two teams (Springfield) to rank in the top six in both offense (4th - 3.61 goals scored per game) and defense (6th - 2.50 goals allowed per game). That has helped them achieve a goal differential of +20, which is tied for Abbotsford for second-best in the AHL behind Springfield's +24.
On special teams, the Checkers are the only team to rank in the top five in both the power play (3rd - 24.4 percent) and penalty kill (5th - 86.8 percent).
The Checkers are a perfect 5-0-0 when trailing after the first period, making them the only team in the league to record the maximum amount of points in that scenario. When trailing after two periods, they're 3-1-0 on the season.
Charlotte's 27 goals in the second period is the highest total of any team in any period this season, while their 25 third-period goals are tied for the second-highest period-by-period total in the league. Meanwhile, they have 11 goals in the first period, the only period in which they have a negative goal differential (-1).
Sharing the Wealth
The Checkers are one of four AHL teams (Portland, Rochester, Syracuse) that have eight different players that have hit double digits in points (Zach Boychuk, Justin Faulk, Drayson Bowman, Chris Terry, Zac Dalpe, Brett Sutter, Bobby Sanguinetti and Jerome Samson). They are also the only team in the league with five players that have scored at least six goals each (Bowman, Boychuk, Dalpe, Sutter, Terry).
Every player who started the season with the Checkers in 2012-13, including goalies Dan Ellis and Justin Peters, has recorded at least one point.
Ellis Shuts the Door
In his first nine AHL games played since the 2007 Calder Cup Playoffs, Checkers goalie Dan Ellis ranks third in AHL save percentage (.948) and fifth in goals-against average (1.71). He is also tied for fifth with two shutouts.
Despite his superior statisics, Ellis, who has a record of 5-2-2 this season, has been in goal for four of the six games in which the Checkers did not record a victory. Meanwhile, partner Justin Peters, who has a 2.87 goals-against average and .900 save percentage, is 7-2-1.
- Zach Boychuk has points in each of his last three games (Nov. 18-24; 2g, 1a)
- Zach Boychuk has goals in each of his last three home games (Nov. 8-18; 4g, 1a)
- Drayson Bowman has points in each of his last three games (Nov. 18-24; 1g, 2a)
- Marc-Andre Gragnani (lower-body, 11/8) – missed six games