The Checkers begin the first leg of a six-game road swing when they visit Chicago for the first time tonight.
Charlotte has not faced Chicago, its former Midwest Division rival, since its first two home games in early November. The teams split those games, with the Checkers winning 4-1 on Nov. 6 and dropping a 2-1 decision two days later despite a sparkling 41-save performance from Dan Ellis. Dating back to last season, the Checkers are 4-5-1 against the Wolves.
Following tonight’s game, the Checkers move on to Milwaukee and Grand Rapids to complete the three-games-in-four-days trip.
While the first half of the season was clearly defined in terms of winning streaks and losing streaks – with the stretches of good play considerably longer than the lapses – the Checkers’ last month has been marked by alternating wins and losses.
That period, which coincides neatly with the exodus of high-end players from around the league to the NHL, has seen the Checkers play five two-games sets with five different opponents, with the Checkers going 1-1-0 in all five.
“A lot of it is the parity in the league right now, and for us it’s just a matter of being consistent with our game,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “We’ve got to bring it every night, because this is a key time that will determine the rest of our season.”
“It’s just a matter of finding our way and finding our identity,” said captain Brett Sutter.
A prolonged road stretch may help with that, particularly this leg – a four-day trip that doesn’t sound like an extended amount of time but is actually longer than the quick back-to-backs and three-in-threes that the Checkers are accustomed to playing. With a record of 15-6-2 away from Time Warner Cable Arena, the Checkers are one of the AHL’s best road teams.
“When we’re on the road we simplify, and with so many new guys it’s good to spend that time together,” said Sutter. “It’s also fun getting wins in someone else’s barn.”
With injured forwards A.J. Jenks, David Rutherford and Jerome Samson not on the trip, the Checkers will use the same lineup as in previous games. Workhorse Justin Peters will likely get the start in goal tonight, with Daniels undecided on what to do for the back-to-back portion of the trip over the weekend
Update: Carolina has recalled defenseman Michal Jordan for tonight's game against Toronto. Also, Charlotte has recalled defenseman Tommi Kivisto from ECHL Florida and right wing Matt Beca from ECHL South Carolina. Read more here.
As the Western Conference’s 10th seed, the Wolves don’t occupy the most intimidating spot in the standings. However, a league-low 44 games played – five fewer than the Checkers – gives them a lower point total that disguises a more-than-solid record of 23-16-5.
Furthermore, the Wolves, top affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, are 9-4-0 since the lockout ended despite the loss of forwards Andrew Ebbett, Zack Kassian and Jordan Schroeder and defensemen Chris Tanev to the NHL. They’re also at their best on home ice with a record of 13-6-2.
Chicago has been hit with injuries, with All-Star forward Brett Sterling missing the last eight games. After a period in which the team was without each of its top two goaltenders, that situation has begun to stabilize, with Matt Climie returning to start the last two games. Eddie Lack, who turned in some outstanding performances against the Checkers over the last two seasons, is out for the season after undergoing hip surgery.
After a slow start to the season that saw him record just one assist in his first 10 games, 33-year-old AHL legend Darren Haydar has taken his expected place atop the team’s scoring chart with 31 points in his last 21 outings. Andrew Gordon and Bill Sweatt are among those enjoying an increased offensive role, with former Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Derek Joslin – briefly a Checker during a conditioning stint last season – on defense.
Dalpe Lands on his Feet
Checkers forward Zac Dalpe has scored a goal in each of his two games since returning from a six-game NHL stint with the Carolina Hurricanes. Those games, the first of which included a season-high seven shots on goal, extended his AHL point streak to seven games (7g, 4a). The streak ties the longest of his three professional seasons and is one short of the longest streak posted by a Checker this season, Drayson Bowman's eight-game run from Oct. 19-Nov. 4. The streak is also tied with two other players, including the Edmonton Oilers' Jordan Eberle, for the third-longest active streak in the AHL.
Dalpe, who posted two assists in six NHL games with Carolina, ranks third on the Checkers in scoring with 30 points (15g, 15a) in 40 games and leads the team with a plus-15 rating (t-11th AHL) and 134 shots on goal (15th AHL). He also has the fewest penalty minutes of any Checkers skater that has played more than 10 games (six).
Jordan Gets Offensive
Michal Jordan's sixth goal of the season on Sunday extended his single-season career high, topping the mark of four set in each of the previous two seasons. Five of his six goals have come since he received news of his first career AHL All-Star selection on Jan. 17.
Now in his third professional season, Jordan currently ranks second among active Checkers defensemen with 15 points and a plus-11 rating.
Forward Jared Staal and defenseman Brett Bellemore, typically not known for their scoring, each tied career offensive highs last week. Staal's third goal of the season to put the Checkers up 1-0 on San Antonio on Saturday tied his career best from last season, while Bellemore's assist on Sunday allowed him to tie his career high of 10 points set in each of the last two seasons.
Other milestones met through 49 games:
- Riley Nash has 21 assists, three more than his career high set two seasons ago
- Chris Terry has 16 goals, tying his total from all of last season
- Zac Dalpe has 15 assists, one more than all of last season
- Justin Shugg as eight assists, tying his total from last season
- Bobby Raymond has five points, one more than his career high from last season
- Rasmus Rissanen has five assists, two more than last season's career high
Peters Shoulders the Load
Checkers goalie Justin Peters has played in 11 of the Checkers' last 13 games, marking the busiest stretch of any of the team's three goaltenders this season. It is also the busiest period for a Checkers goaltender since John Muse played 12 of 13 games from Jan. 24-Feb. 25 of last season.
For the season, Peters ranks eighth in the AHL with 32 games played and tied for fourth with 18 wins. He is also tied for second with five shutouts and is 14th with a 2.40 goals-against average.
The Checkers have compiled a record of 15-6-4 on the road, giving them a total of 34 points that marks the third-highest in the AHL. Charlotte plays each of its next six games away from Time Warner Cable Arena.
Tale of Two Power Plays
The Checkers have the AHL's best power play on the road (24.8 percent) and the AHL's 29th-ranked power play at home (11.6 percent). They have scored four power-play goals in their last two road games (4-for-11) and are scoreless in their last four home games (0-for-15).
For the season, the Checkers rank tied for seventh in the AHL at 19.2 percent.
- Zac Dalpe has points in each of his last seven games (Jan. 4-Feb. 10; 7g, 4a) and goals in each of his last three (Jan. 13-Feb. 10; 3g, 0a)
- Jerome Samson has points in each of his last two games (Jan. 4-6; 1g, 1a)
- David Rutherford (upper body, Feb. 5) - missed two games
- A.J. Jenks (upper body, Jan. 17) - missed eight games
- Jerome Samson (upper body, Jan. 6) - missed 13 games
- Rasmus Rissanen is one game shy of 100 AHL/Checkers games
- Justin Krueger played his 100th AHL/Checkers game on Feb. 10
- Feb. 14 - (D) Tommi Kivisto recalled to Charlotte from Florida (ECHL)
- Feb. 14 - (RW) Matt Beca recalled to Charlotte from South Carolina (ECHL)
- Feb. 8 - (LW) Matt Marquardt signed to professional tryout contract
- Feb. 14 - (D) Michal Jordan recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte