A 5-2 defeat at the hands of the IceHogs on Saturday dropped Charlotte to 0-3-0 in their 10-game stretch of games at Time Warner Cable Arena that began with two losses to Oklahoma City last week. The three consecutive games mark the first and only losing streak the team has experienced while building a record of 12-6-2 over the course of the season.
Today’s game concludes the four-game season series between the two clubs, with Rockford having won each of the last two to take a 2-1-0 lead. Dating back to last season, the Checkers still hold a 7-3-1 edge over Rockford.
The Checkers began Saturday’s game with the kind of effort they were missing in their previous game, jumping out to a 2-0 first period lead. However, they then allowed the IceHogs to score five unanswered goals as the rest of the game more closely resembled their 7-2 blowout loss to Oklahoma City one week earlier.
"When we came out for the second period we weren't ready to play," said coach Jeff Daniels. "They wanted it more than we did.
" We got complacent, and we never recovered from that," said Sutter.
The result is the Checkers’ longest home losing streak since dropping its last four games in Charlotte last season, a stretch that ultimately cost them a playoff spot. However, in contrast the obvious lack of confidence that the team couldn’t seem to shake at that time, this team feels it can bounce back quickly.
“We just have to stick together and be ready to play 60 minutes,” said alternate captain Nicolas Blanchard, who racked up 16 penalty minutes on Saturday. “I’m not nervous. We have a pretty good team and we have to play with confidence, everybody has to do their own role and play their best and we’ll be fine.”
"We're going to want to come out hard and show them what we can do," said Sutter.
Though the Checkers haven’t been successful at home in the last few weeks, Zach Boychuk has done his part offensively, scoring in each of the team’s last five games in Charlotte. Boychuk’s 13th goal of the season on Saturday temporarily tied him for the AHL lead, but Syracuse’s Tyler Johnson also scored that night to reclaim sole possession of the top spot.
In goal, Dan Ellis will get his turn in the rotation that saw Justin Peters start Saturday. Ellis ranks fourth in the AHL with a .933 save percentage, eighth with a 2.25 goals-against average and is tied for fifth with two shutouts.
A team with a handful of offensive weapons will get another on today, as forward Andrew Shaw returns from a one-game boarding suspension.
Since returning from a separate six-game suspension he earned for leaving the bench to participate in an altercation, Shaw, who enjoyed a successful stint with the Chicago Blackhawks last season, had four goals in four games prior to his most recent ban. Today, he’ll join the likes of Jeremy Morin, Ben Smith and Martin St. Pierre, veterans who all enjoyed productive games against the Checkers on Saturday.
"We weren't strong enough defensively, and they just kept coming and coming," said Daniels.
Rockford has now scored at least four goals in each of its last six games, going 5-0-1 in that time.
After Brett Bellemore and Boychuk beat him early in Saturday’s game, goalie Carter Hutton rebounded to shut the door for the remainder of a 34-save effort, including a string of point-blank saves that could have swung the momentum in the other direction. Since backing up three straight games as Alec Richards took over, Hutton has stopped 69 of 73 shots to post a record of 2-0-0.
Hutton, who has played 16 of the IceHogs’ 21 games, has started on back-to-back nights four previous times this season.
Checkers forward Zach Boychuk has scored a goal in each of his last three games (Nov. 24-Dec. 1; 3g) and each of his last five home games (Nov. 8-Dec.1; 6g, 1a) to take sole possession of second in AHL goal scoring behind Syracuse's Tyler Johnson (13 total goals). He is also tied for the league lead in power-play goals (six), is tied for third in power-play points (11) and has sole possession of the league lead in game-winning goals (four).
Boychuk's goal-scoring streak at home ties the longest in the league this season, with Grand Rapids' Francis Pare having scored in five straight games between Oct. 13 and Nov. 9. Boychuk, who has points in each of his last five games regardless of location (4g, 1a) is the only Checkers player with an active point streak. After just 20 games played, Boychuk is already closing in on his AHL career high of 22 goals set in the 2010-11 season. Along with Drayson Bowman (11 goals, t-5th AHL) and Chris Terry (eight goals), the Checkers have three players on pace to either tie or break Terry's team record of 34 goals set during the 2010-11 season.
In his first game since suffering a lower-body injury on Nov. 8, defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani recorded an asisst on Zach Boychuk's power play goal against Rockford on Saturday. Despite missing a total of eight games due to an illness and a lower-body injury, the 2011 AHL defenseman of the year is tied for third in the league with eight power-play assists. With Gragnani in their lineup, the Checkers have scored on 29.3 percent of their opportunities. Without him, they've scored on 16.1 percent of their chances. Gragnani now has 10 points, all assists, in 12 games played this season.
Trouble at Home
Dating back to last season, the Checkers are 3-8-0 in their last 11 games at Time Warner Cable Arena, including losing streaks of four (April 3-8) and three games (Nov. 24-Dec. 1). During that stretch, they have been out-scored 36-12 in their eight losses, including an 8-2 loss to Abbotsford on April 8 and a 7-2 loss to Oklahoma City on Nov. 25 that marked the team's most lopsided losses in each season.
The Checkers are in the midst of a 10-game home stand that marks the longest in the team's three-year history, eclipsing a seven-game run in November of 2010. They are 9-2-2 on the road this season, as their 13 road games played on the road are tied for second most in the league.
The Checkers average 13.6 penalty minutes per game, which is the second-lowest total in the AHL. Prior to Nicolas Blanchard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Saturday, the Checkers were one of three teams (Grand Rapids, Springfield) that had yet to commit a 10-minute or game misconduct. Only one team (Albany) has fewer major penalties than the Checkers' 11.
Special on Special Teams
The Checkers, who are tied for third in the AHL with 26 points, are the only team to rank in the top five in both the power play (1st - 24.7 percent) and penalty kill (5th - 86.2 percent). They boast some of the league's most productive players on the power play, including Zach Boychuk (t-1st with six goals, t-3rd with 11 points), Drayson Bowman (t-3rd with five goals) and Marc-Andre Gragnani (t-3rd with eight assists).
Zach Boychuk has points in each of his last five games (Nov. 18-Dec. 1; 4g, 1a), goals in each of his last three (Nov. 24-Dec. 1; 3g) and goals in each of his last five home games (Nov. 8-Dec. 1; 6g, 1a)