Sunday’s game stung enough on its own. Having a long week between games to stew on it probably wasn’t ideal.
That said, the Checkers remained remarkably upbeat during their five-day break between Sunday’s 7-2 loss against Oklahoma City, easily their most lopsided of the season, and their first chance to atone for it against the Rockford Ice Hogs on Saturday. If there was to be any loss of confidence coming from back-to-back losses against a team they were hoping to use as a measuring stick for their own early-season success, it hasn’t shown.
“We’re not worrying about it too much,” said defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti. “We know we’re a good hockey team, and we’re using this week to work hard and try to get back on track.”
Even after the losses to Oklahoma City, the Checkers (12-5-2) still lead the Barons by one point in the South Division with an equal number of games played. Only one AHL team – Abbotsford – had more points through Thursday’s games, putting the Checkers in the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference.
“The guys understand that we’re a good team and we’ve proven that over the last few months,” said coach Jeff Daniels, who called the week a good time to refocus. “You can’t let one bad game affect you.”
From watching the week’s practices, one wouldn’t know the difference between a team on its one and only losing streak of the season (0-2-0) and the one from the previous week that had earned points its six previous games (5-0-1). The energy level was high when it needed to be, with a few lighter moments, such as one of their regularly-scheduled power skating sessions and a shootout competition where the winner was guaranteed to shoot in the next game opportunity (look for Riley Nash to get a chance, whenever that might be) mixed in.
“They’re working hard,” said Daniels. “We’ve had a chance to work on some systems, and the guys seem upbeat. We look like we’re ready to go.”
Still, they’re hoping to have learned a lesson from their games against the Barons, who they next face in back-to-back games in Oklahoma City starting Jan. 11. After all, as daunting as it may seem after what they saw last weekend, they’ll need to keep the pace with the likes of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz, who have helped the Barons to an eight-game point streak, if they want to stay competitive in the South.
“If anything it was a little bit of a wake-up call that we’ve got some work to do,” said Sanguinetti, who ranks second among Checkers defensemen with 12 points (2g, 10a) in 18 games. “We stood around and watched them too much, and we need to get back to being a hard team to play against.”
That starts this weekend against the Rockford, which hasn’t been a particularly strong team in terms of wins and losses over the last two seasons (the Chicago Blackhawks affiliate is 10-9-1 this season), but has a reputation of not being an easy out.
“They’re a team that always plays us hard,” said Daniels of Rockford, which handed the Checkers their first regulation loss of the season on Oct. 20.
Barring a setback, defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani has a good chance of being available for Saturday's game. The AHL's defenseman of the year in 2011, who has missed the team's last seven games with a lower-body injury, has practiced fully with the Checkers all week.