The Checkers conclude a three-games-in-three-days trip through Texas when they visit the San Antonio Rampage tonight.
Charlotte is off to a 0-1-1 start on the weekend, having lost to Houston in overtime on Friday before suffering its first regulation loss on the road since Oct. 31 in Texas on Saturday. The 3-1 loss to the Stars ended the team’s point streak at seven games (5-0-2), which tied a two-year-old franchise record.
Tonight’s contest will be the fourth of the eight-game season series between Charlotte and the Rampage, with the three previous games also taking place in San Antonio. The Checkers have won each of those games, including a 4-3 win on Nov. 16, a 4-3 shootout win on Nov. 18 and a 2-1 victory just two weeks ago on Dec. 16.
Even with a win tonight, the Checkers are assured of ending their weekend trip with the fewest points of any of their five three-in-three sets this season. However, the fact that a respectable 1-1-1 record would qualify for that distinction says more about the team’s previous success, as they’re now 10-2-2 in games that are part of a three-in-three set this season, including two franchise-first 3-0-0 sweeps.
If the Checkers are to earn a win tonight (they’ve never gone winless in a three-in-three set), they’ll have to do so with some inexperience on their defense. Marc-Andre Gragnani, who was last seen scoring a late winner on the power play during the last game at San Antonio, and Rasmus Rissanen are both out due to injury, while Justin Faulk will likely continue a season-long trend of not playing three times in three nights.
That means increased minutes for rookie Tommi Kivisto, who played his second career AHL game at Texas last night, and a Checkers debut for Bobby Raymond, who the team will sign to a professional tryout contract from ECHL Florida today. Raymond, a 27-year-old who split last season between Florida and the AHL’s Binghamton Senators, has 19 points (8g, 11a) in 30 games to lead all Everblades defensemen in scoring.
The addition of Raymond, who attended Checkers training camp prior to this season, gives the Checkers three players who started the season in the ECHL, a season high. Kivisto and forward Justin Shugg, who has sat out two of the last four games as a healthy scratch, are the others.
As the Checkers continue the three-in-three set, Justin Peters is likely to get the start tonight. Prior to allowing three goals on 21 shots in the overtime loss to Houston, he had allowed that many in his previous four starts combined, all wins. Peters started the three previous games against the Rampage, posting a combined 2.27 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in the head-to-head meetings.
The Checkers last win in San Antonio came in the midst of a tough stretch for the Rampage, who lost six in a row from Dec. 11-21. Since then, however, they’ve earned points in three consecutive games, including a shootout loss to Oklahoma City on Friday and an overtime win over Houston last night to start their own three-in-three set.
Each member of San Antonio’s formidable goaltending tandem was especially sharp to start the weekend, with top prospect Jacob Markstrom stopping 42 of 44 shots in the 3-2 loss to Oklahoma City. Nineteen of those shots came off the sticks of the Barons’ star NHL duo of Taylor Hall (10) and Jordan Eberle (9), each of whom came up empty.
The next night, AHL veteran Dov Grumet-Morris stopped 29 of 30 against Houston, allowing just one goal to the Aeros’ Mikael Granlund, an NHL talent who is heating up after missing much of the season due to injury.
After a slow start to the season, the Rampage have been receiving a boost from the veteran NHL due of forward Jon Sim and defenseman Mike Mottau, who signed tryout contracts with the team earlier in the month. Sim, 35, has four points (1g, 3a) during the team’s three-game point streak, with Mottau, 34, chipping in three points, all assists, during the same time frame.
In terms of players who have spent the entire season with San Antonio, co-scoring leader Drew Shore (23 points in 32 games) has a team-high five points (1g, 4a) in the last three games. Shore, a second-round pick of the Florida Panthers in 2009, is tied for sixth in AHL rookie scoring.
Streaks Come to an End
Saturday's 3-1 loss at Texas ended the Checkers' seven-game point streak (5-0-2), which tied the longest point streak in franchise history. In terms of points earned (12), it topped the team's other seven-game run, a 4-0-3 stretch that took place from Oct. 29-Nov. 7, 2010.
The game also ended a six-game road point streak (4-0-2), with the team's previous loss coming nearly two months earlier at Milwaukee on Oct. 31.
Dating back to Dec. 7, the Checkers have scored on just two of of their last 34 power-play opportunities (5.9 percent). Over the course of that time, they have fallen from the league's top power play at 24.0 percent to their current ranking of seventh at 19.2 percent.
On either side of a stretch in which they scored one power-play goal in two consecutive games on Dec. 15 and 16, the Checkers have endured two serparate four-game droughts, including an active 0-for-13 slump dating back to Dec. 20. Though luck has been a factor (the Checkers scored just two seconds after a power play expired at Texas on Saturday), the current drought is the team's longest of the season in terms of consecutive scoreless opportunities.
The Checkers' 10-3-3 record away from Time Warner Cable Arena gives them the fourth-best percentage of possible points earned (.719) of any AHL team on the road this season. What started with a 6-2-1 record on their nine-game road swing to start the season continued with a six-game point streak (4-0-2) that ended with the team's first regulation loss on the road since Oct. 31 at Texas this past Saturday. The six-game road point streak is tied for the third-longest posted by any AHL team this season.
In the Driver's Seat
The Checkers have held the top spot in the South Division since winning at Rockford on Oct. 20, a span of 69 days. They currently lead the Houston Aeros and Texas Stars, who are tied for second place, by three points, with only four points separating the Checkers from fourth-place Oklahoma City. The Checkers are 6-3-3 in divisional play this season.
The Checkers have a combined 10-2-2 record in games that are part of a three-in-three set this season, including a 4-0-1 mark in Game One, a 3-1-1 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 35-21-6 in three-in-three games, including a 11-7-3 record in Game One, a 14-4-3 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.
- Marc-Andre Gragnani has points in each of his last three games (Dec. 14-16; 1g, 2a)
- Tim Wallace has points in each of his last two games (Dec. 28-29; 1g, 1a)
- Rasmus Rissanen (Dec. 28) - missed one game
- Marc-Andre Gragnani (lower body, Dec. 16) - missed four games