The Checkers look to tie a team record by winning their fifth game in a row when they visit the Aeros in Houston tonight.
The game is the third of a grueling three-in-three set that began with wins in Oklahoma City on Friday and Saturday. Immediately following Saturday’s comeback overtime win, the team hopped on a seven-hour bus ride with an anticipated early-morning arrival in Houston for tonight’s 6 p.m. start, making this arguably the toughest turnaround of the entire season.
Charlotte will be looking to earn a point for the fifth time in the eight-game season series with their South Division rivals, having gone 3-0-1 to this point.
Despite a wild day that featured 11 transactions and the absence of a handful of top players that shone in Friday’s 7-0 win over the Barons, the Checkers were able to score timely goals to earn the win on Saturday.
None were timelier than A.J. Jenks’ first goal of the season with 2:24 remaining in regulation and Chris Terry’s winner in overtime that extended his point streak to six games (3g, 5a) and goal streak to three games. With Riley Nash scoring early in the first period and Brett Sutter clawing one back seconds after the Barons had built a 3-1 lead in the second period, the Checkers were able to score four times despite taking just 19 shots – one more than the fewest total in franchise history.
Combining the six players who left for Carolina Hurricanes training camp earlier in the day
and five more who missed the game due to injury, the Checkers were without the services of 11 players who were at their disposal the first time they were in Houston, a 3-1 win on opening night.
Of the five who joined the team from the ECHL on Saturday
, defensemen Beau Schmitz and winger David Rutherford, previously of the Florida Everblades, both recorded their first career AHL points on Saturday. Forwards Matt Beca and Leigh Salters were also in the lineup to make their AHL season debuts, with John Muse backing up Justin Peters in goal.
Peters, who saw a shutout streak of 144 minutes end on Saturday, could again get the start tonight, having played three games in three nights on at least one occasion last season. However, Muse, who is 11-3-2 with a 1.80 goals-against average and .940 save percentage in 16 career AHL games, would provide a more than solid relief option.
On the injury front, forwards Jerome Samson and Justin Soryal and defenseman Rasmus Rissanen are the only possibilities to return, however unlikely that may be. Forward Nicolas Blanchard and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani remain out.
While the Checkers were winning four in a row, Houston lost four of five to fall five points back of Charlotte for the South Division lead. They now sit in third place behind the Texas Stars, whose five-game win streak has them just two points behind the Checkers.
The Aeros will also be playing a three-in-three set, though they will not have to travel the night before their game against the Checkers. After losing 4-1 at Texas on Friday, they returned home to suffer a 3-2 defeat to the Lake Erie Monsters on Saturday.
The return of the NHL has also impacted the Aeros, though not to the same degree as it has the Checkers. Only two players who started the season in Houston will be with the Minnesota Wild when they start training camp later today – rookie forward Mikael Granlund, a first-round pick in 2010, and defenseman Steven Kampfer.
More Aeros players will get a chance to impress when the team flies up to Minnesota for a scrimmage with the Wild later in the week. However, for the time being, a host of top prospects including Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle, both first-round picks, will remain in the lineup tonight. With 33 points in 33 games, Zucker is the AHL’s active rookie scoring leader, with Barons defenseman Justin Schultz now in the NHL for good.
Additionally, goalie Matt Hackett, who played well in relief stints in the NHL last season, remains with the team. He has played in 29 of the team’s 37 games, posting a 2.65 goals-against average and .905 save percentage. Hackett did not get the start on Saturday, making it more than likely that he’ll face the Checkers today.
After going through a four-game winless streak on either side of the new year, the Checkers have now won four games in a row for the second time this season, marking the second-longest active streak in the AHL. Additionally, their five-game point streak that started with an overtime loss at Lake Erie on Jan. 3 is tied for the longest active streak in the league.
The winning streak ties the Checkers' longest of the season, set from Dec. 11-16, and is one away from tying a franchise-record, five-game streak set from Nov. 20-30, 2011. During the current streak, the Checkers have out-scored their opponents by a combined 18-4 margin, having recorded two shutouts and scoring at least three goals in each game.
Finding a Way
One night after seven different players scored in a 7-0 win over Oklahoma City that tied the largest victory margin in team history, the new-look Checkers nearly set a franchise record for fewest shots in a single game in the following night's rematch. Despite taking just 19 shots, four of which were in overtime and one more than the franchise-record low, the Checkers scored four goals against Barons goalie Yann Danis, the reigning AHL goaltender of the year, to win the game in overtime.
Welcome to the Club
Due to a combination of injuries and recalls to NHL training camp in Carolina, five players were in the Checkers' lineup for the first time this season against Oklahoma City on Saturday. One of those players - defenseman Beau Schmitz - was making his AHL debut, while forward Leigh Salters was making his Checkers debut. During the game, forward David Rutherford, who made his AHL debut with Charlotte the previous night, and Schmitz each earned their first professional point with one assist apiece.
Heading into Sunday's game against Houston, the Checkers will have nine players on their roster who started the season in the ECHL. They are goaltender John Muse, defensemen Tommi Kivisto, Bobby Raymond and Schmitz, and forwards Matt Beca, Matthew Pistilli, Justin Shugg, Salters and Rutherford.
Dalpe Piling on Points
Checkers forward Zac Dalpe has recorded multiple points in four consecutive games (4g, 4a), the longest such streak by a Checkers player this season. During that streak, he has risen to secong place in team scoring with 27 points (12g, 15a) in 37 games played.
Dalpe is also among the team's leaders in a handful of less-heralded categories. His six penalty minutes are the fewest of any skater with more than 10 games played, while his +13 plus/minus rating and 120 shots on goal both lead the team.
Terry Streaks Again
Checkers forward Chris Terry has points in six consecutive games (3g, 5a), putting him just one away from tying a seven-game streak he posted from Oct. 21-Nov. 16. He is two games shy of the longest streak posted by a Checker this season, Drayson Bowman's eight game run from Oct. 19-Nov. 4. Terry, who went a career-long seven games without a point from Nov. 24-Dec. 9, is no stranger to long point streaks, having posted three streaks of five or more games last season, including two eight-game runs that marked career highs. His current streak is tied for the second-longest active streak in the AHL.
Terry's overtime goal on Saturday marked fifth game-winner of the season, tying Zach Boychuk for the team lead and tying five other players for second in the AHL. He also has goals in three consecutive games, two of which were game-winners.
The Checkers are in the midst of playing three games in three nights for the fifth time this season as they get set to face Houston on Sunday. In their last set at Houston, Texas and San Antonio from Dec. 28-30, the Checkers did not record a victory (0-2-1) for the first time in 21 attempts as an AHL franchise.
Thanks to sweeping two separate three-in-three sets for the first two times in their history earlier in the season, something they could again do with a win today, the Checkers are now 12-3-2 in games that are part of a three-in-three set this season, including a 5-0-1 mark in Game One, a 4-1-1 record in Game Two and a 3-2-0 showing in Game Three. Following this weekend, the Checkers will play two additional three-in-three sets later in the season.
Despite losing seven players to the Carolina Hurricanes in the last week, the Checkers still have 185 games of NHL experience on their current roster. Defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani leads that group with 73 games played with Buffalo and Vancouver, followed by Jerome Samson (45), Brett Sutter (34), Zac Dalpe (31), Justin Peters (28) and Riley Nash (five). Every player on that list played at least five NHL games as recently as last season.
Shutting the Door
Justin Peters' 144-minute shutout streak came to an end in Oklahoma City on Saturday, with the Barons' Mark Arcobello scoring 43 seconds into the second period. Peters had previously not allowed a goal since the third period of a loss in San Antonio on Dec. 30, having picked up two consecutive shutouts along the way.
Dating back to Dec. 11, Peters is 7-2-1 with a 1.48 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in his last 10 games. For the season, he ranks 13th in the AHL in goals-against average (2.35), 20th in save percentage (.915) and tied for second with two shutouts (4). His four shutouts tie a personal single-season high and are the most ever by a Checkers goalie in a single season.
In the Driver's Seat
The Checkers have began each day holding the top spot in the South Division since winning at Rockford on Oct. 20, a span of 83 days. Charlotte, which currently leads the second-place Texas Stars by two points, is 8-4-3 in divisional play this season, having played the fewest inter-divisional games of any South team to this point.
- Chris Terry has points in each of his last six games (Dec. 30-Jan. 12; 3g, 5a)
- Zac Dalpe has goals and points in each of his last four games (Jan. 4-12; 4g, 4a)
- Chris Terry has goals in each of his last three games (Jan. 6-12; 3g)
- Marc-Andre Gragnani has points in each of his last three games (Dec. 14-16; 1g, 2a)
- Jerome Samson has points in each of his last two games (Jan. 4-6; 1g, 1a)
- Riley Nash has points in each of his last two games (Jan. 11-12; 1g, 1a)
- A.J. Jenks has points in each of his last two games (Jan. 11-12; 1g, 1a)
- Jerome Samson (upper body, Jan. 6) - missed two games
- Justin Soryal (upper body, Jan. 4) - missed three games
- Nicolas Blanchard (upper body, Jan. 3) - missed four games
- Rasmus Rissanen (upper body, Dec. 28) - missed seven games
- Marc-Andre Gragnani (lower body, Dec. 16) - missed 10 games