With his team slumping to yet another home defeat in its most recent game, Jeff Daniels is using a new avenue to get his point across.
For Tuesday’s game against Milwaukee, Daniels will make veteran forward Jerome Samson, a two-time AHL All-Star, a healthy scratch. Twenty-year-old winger Justin Shugg, recalled from ECHL Florida one day earlier, will take his place in the lineup.
“Obviously what we’ve been doing over the last few weeks isn’t working,” said Daniels, whose team is 1-6-0 in its last seven, all at home. “We needed to change it up, and we had an option of guys to pull out.”
Asked whether to decision to remove Samson, who has two goals in his last three games, was a reflection of the player himself or of a desire to send a message to the rest of his team, Daniels didn’t elaborate.
“It’s a coach’s decision,” he said.
Daniels said that he could not recall scratching Samson during their five seasons together with the Carolina Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate. Even after his two recent goals that broke a seven-game drought (it could have been three if not for a controversial goalie interference call last Thursday), Samson was on pace for 15 goals this season. That would mark a career-low at the AHL level and the only time in six AHL seasons with less than 20.
Samson, 25, ranks eighth on the Checkers in scoring with 13 points (5g, 8a) in 24 games this season. He scored his first two NHL goals last season during a 16-game stint with Carolina.
Meanwhile, Shugg is coming off his best week of the season at the ECHL level, scoring eight points (6g, 2a) in his last four games, including his first professional hat trick in Wheeling on Saturday. Given the size of the Checkers’ roster, which already had two extra forwards on it prior to his exchange with A.J. Jenks, the opportunity to get his first AHL game tonight caught him by surprise.
“It’s exciting and it’s not something I expected,” said Shugg.
After spending most of the second half of last season with the Checkers, Shugg seemed to be on track for a full-time role in the AHL before the trickle-down effect of the NHL lockout sent him back to Florida to start this season.
“I don’t think he had a great training camp, but the rest was tied to the lockout and our depth,” said Daniels. “The message with him going down there was that he needed to be playing, and if the lockout ended he was always going to be in a top nine role for us.”
“It was tough to swallow, but at the end of the day playing every game in Florida was probably better for my development,” said Shugg, who has 22 points (11g, 11a) in 19 games with Florida. “I got back on the penalty kill where I played in junior, and since there’s only three lines I was getting 20-25 minutes of ice time.”
With added confidence from his recent scoring run, Shugg hopes to keep that momentum going on a line with Jeremy Welsh and Chris Terry tonight.
“I feel good coming up here and getting that first game,” he said. “I’m going to try to bring a positive attitude, be physical, hit, and do whatever I can to help the Checkers get back on track.”
“We’re not asking for him to be our savior tonight,” said Daniels. “We just want him to play hard.”
With the exception of Justin Peters starting in goal, the Checkers will have no other lineup changes tonight. Defenseman Rasmus Rissanen has returned from his leave of absence but will be unable to play for another week due to an injury suffered beforehand.