The Checkers begin the post-holiday portion of their schedule with a three-in-three road trip starting with tonight’s game at Houston.
The match-up will be the fourth of the eight-game season series between the two clubs, with the Checkers having won all three thus far. That includes two games in Charlotte earlier this month and the opening game of the season back on Oct. 13 in Houston.
After tonight’s game, the Checkers continue their weekend trek through the South Division with games in Texas and San Antonio on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
The Checkers return from a six-day holiday break feeling good about the way they’ve played of late, having earned at least one point in each of their last six games (5-0-1). That matches the team’s longest point streak of the season, giving it two successful stretches on either side of a 1-6-0 skid that included the longest losing streak in club history (five games).
“We just got back to the basics,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “The character in that room said enough is enough, and we got back on track.”
“For the past two weeks we’ve been doing what we need to do,” said captain Brett Sutter.
That rebound has the Checkers back where they were prior to their slump – near the top of the league standings. Their 39 points (18-9-3) has them in second place in the AHL overall (one point behind Syracuse), while they enjoy a one-point lead over Toronto in the Western Conference and a four-point lead over Texas in the South Division.
While the Checkers have found success in any venue this season, they enter tonight’s game as the league’s best road team with a record of 10-2-2. Since starting the season with a nine-game road swing that produced a record of 6-2-1, they’ve earned points in five consecutive road games (4-0-1) with their last road loss coming all the way back on Oct. 31 against Milwaukee.
Justin Peters has been in goal for five of the six games on the current point streak, including wins in each of his last four starts. Starting with a win over Milwaukee on Dec. 11, Peters is 4-0-1 with a 0.69 goals-against average and .971 save percentage. Should he not get a chance to continue his streak tonight, Dan Ellis, who gave up four goals on 16 shots in his last appearance on Dec. 20, would get the nod.
Defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani, who missed the last two games with a lower-body injury, could make his return tonight. Gragnani leads the team with 10 power-play assists.
Update: Gragnani will not play this weekend, causing the team to recall Tommi Kivisto from ECHL Florida.
Though they entered the Dec. 15 match-up with the Checkers having won seven of their eight previous games, back-to-back losses in Charlotte started a stretch that includes two victories in their last six heading into tonight.
One of those wins came just two days ago, with the Aeros potentially having the advantage of being back to game shape due to a shorter holiday break. They claimed a 4-3 win in Texas on Wednesday, in which defenseman Kyle Medvec scored his first goal of the season in overtime.
Despite the fact that they managed just two goals in the two-game set with Charlotte a few weeks ago, the Aeros have a number of top offensive prospects at their disposal. Rookie forward Jason Zucker leads the team with 25 points in 25 games, including two assists on Tuesday, and is tied for the league lead with seven power-play goals. Fellow first-year player Charlie Coyle, a 2010 first-round draft pick, has three points in his last two games, while Nick Palmieri has six in his last four (2g, 4a).
Mikael Granlund, another first-round pick, scored a goal and added an assist on Wednesday for his first multi-point outing in nine games since returning from a month-long ankle injury.
Matt Hackett, who made 27 saves to record the win on Wednesday, has started 15 of the team’s last 16 games in goal and leads the AHL with just under 1,424 minutes played. The only game he did not play was when Darcy Kuemper took on the Checkers on Dec. 15.
The Checkers have earned points in each of their last six games (5-0-1), tying another 5-0-1 stretch from Nov. 8-21 for their longest point streak of the season. A point earned against Houston tonight would tie the longest in the Checkers' three year history as an AHL franchise, a seven-game streak (4-0-3) set from Oct. 29-Nov. 7, 2010.
Their overall streak is currently tied with Toronto for the longest active streak in the AHL. They also have a five-game point streak at home that ties the longest active streak in the league and a five-game point streak on the road that is the AHL's second-longest active streak.
The Checkers' 10-2-2 record away from Time Warner Cable Arena gives them the best percentage of possible points earned (.768) of any AHL team on the road this season. Since going 6-2-1 on their nine-game road swing to start the season, the Checkers are 4-0-1 over the course of an active five-game point streak that marks the second-longest active streak in the AHL. The team's last road loss came on Oct. 31 at Milwaukee.
Checkers forward Zach Boychuk has assists and points in his last six games (1g, 8a), a run that trails only Chris Terry's seven-game streak and Drayson Bowman's eight-game streak for the longest posted by a Charlotte skater this season. A point tonight would match the longest point streak of Boychuk's professional career, a seven-game run (3g, 5a) set during the first two rounds of the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs. The six-game assist streak, which includes two multi-assist games, is already a new career high.
In terms of active AHL ranks, Boychuk's point streak is tied for the second-longest in the league behind Adam Cracknell's eight-game streak, while his assist streak is the longest in the league.
Through 30 games, Boychuk leads the team and ranks tied for ninth in the AHL with 28 points. He is tied for the team lead and tied for seventh in the league with 14 goals, is tied for fourth in the league with six power-play goals and is tied for third in the league with four power-play goals.
Puck Stops with Peters
Checkers goalie Justin Peters has won each of his last four starts, marking his second winning streak of four or more games this season. One additional win would tie his season high, five-game streak set from Oct. 28 through Nov. 18. Over his last five games, which include his second shutout of the season on Dec. 15 and a scoreless 27-minute relief appearance on Dec. 20, Peters is 4-0-1 with a 0.69 goals-against average and .971 save percentage.
Peters, who has not given up more than one goal in a game since Dec. 6, currently ranks 12th in the AHL with a 2.41 goals-against average and is tied for eighth in the league with 11 wins.
In the Driver's Seat
The Checkers' current six-game point streak has allowed them to solidify the top spot in the South Division, which they've held since winning at Rockford on Oct. 20, a span of 67 days. They currently lead the second-place Texas Stars by four points..
The Checkers have a combined 10-1-1 record in games that are part of a three-in-three set this season, including an undefeated 4-0-0 mark in Game One, a 3-0-1 record in Game Two and a 3-1-0 mark in Game Three. They have swept two of their four three-in-three sets this season, marking the only 3-0-0 weekends in the three-year history of the AHL franchise (20 total attempts).
All time, the Checkers are 35-20-5 in three-in-three games, including a 11-7-2 record in Game One, a 14-3-3 record in Game Two and an 10-10-0 record in Game Three. They play seven sets of three-in-threes this season, five of which take place entirely on the road.
- Zach Boychuk has assists and points in each of his last six games (Dec. 11-21; 1g, 8a)
- Justin Peters has won each of his last four starts (Dec.11-21)
- Marc-Andre Gragnani has points in each of his last three games (Dec. 14-16; 1g, 2a)
- Marc-Andre Gragnani (lower body, Dec. 16) - missed two games