The Checkers conclude what has so far been a successful stretch of road games with a match-up against their regional rivals in Norfolk tonight.
The team, 4-1-0 in its last five games, makes its third of four trips to Norfolk this season, with the final one set for next Wednesday. With a 3-1-0 record in the head-to-head series, the Checkers could wrap up the GEICO Challenge Cup, awarded to Norfolk in its inaugural season last April, with good showings over the next two games. Charlotte had won each of the first three meetings before dropping a 3-1 decision in Norfolk on Jan. 23.
Following tonight’s game, the Checkers return to Charlotte to begin a stretch of playing 14 of 17 games at home starting with Sunday’s game against Oklahoma City at Time Warner Cable Arena.
With the parent Carolina Hurricanes getting healthier by the day, a wild week of transactions saw eight players make move between the organization’s AHL and NHL during the last week, some of them multiple times.
Sorting through the madness, the net result is that the Checkers have added forwards Andreas Nodl and Jeremy Welsh and All-Star defenseman Michal Jordan since their last game, a 1-0 win in Abbotsford last Saturday. That may give them more depth than they’ve had in some time, with two players expected to miss tonight’s game as healthy extras.
Welsh, who last played for the Checkers on Feb. 17, has three goals in his last two AHL games, while Nodl, who played his first AHL games in nearly three years last month, has four points (1g, 3a) in five games as a Checker to go along with one assist in eight NHL contests.
On defense, the team has both Jordan and Marc-Andre Gragnani on its current roster – players who the Hurricanes and Checkers exchanged for one another on two separate occasions over the last few days. Jordan boasts a plus-11 rating and was enjoying his best scoring stretch as a professional at the time of his first NHL recall on Feb. 14, while Gragnani has five points in his last five AHL games, helping the Checkers’ power play convert at close to a 50 percent clip during that time.
However, the losses of Zac Dalpe to the Hurricanes and Brett Sutter to a one-game suspension will also be felt. Those two were the heroes of a 5-1 win over Abbotsford last Friday, recording four points apiece to tie a franchise record. They rank second and fourth on the Checkers in scoring, respectively.
Update: The Hurricanes reassigned Dalpe on Friday afternoon
Meanwhile, the heroes of the Checkers’ next win, Justin Peters (a 41-save shutout) and Chris Terry (the game-winning goal with less than five minutes remaining in regulation), look to maintain the momentum of a stretch that has included arguably their best hockey of the season. Peters, who has started 15 of the Checkers’ last 18 games, should do so again tonight.
The Admirals, who were struggling mightily when the teams last met for a home-and-home series in late January, have put together some victories since. After starting 2013 with one win in their first nine games, they are 9-4-1 in their last 14. That’s helped them gain some ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race, where they now trail eighth-place Connecticut by five points.
Scoring leader Peter Holland (35 points in 39 games) recently returned from an NHL stint with the Anaheim Ducks and was held scoreless in the team’s last game, a 2-1 win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Wednesday. Prior to that, he had four goals in his previous five AHL games.
Going the other way was rookie forward Emerson Etem, who joins Patrick Maroon and Kyle Palmieri in Anaheim. Together, those three represent three of the team’s top five scorers, with Holland, rookie defenseman Sami Vatanen (27 points in 47 games) and forward Devante Smith-Pelly (15 points) now making up the team’s top three.
After getting a pair of veteran goalies, Viktor Fasth and Jeff Deslauriers, some work around the time they last faced the Checkers, the Admirals have now gone back to their usual tandem of rookies Frederik Andersen, a former Hurricanes prospect who re-entered the draft this past summer, and Igor Bobkov. The two have split games evenly, though Andersen, who has the superior numbers of the two (2.22 goals-against average and .931 save percentage), has appeared in each of their last four games.
Bobkov, who has a 3.12 goals-against average and .904 save percentage, made 30 saves to defeat the Checkers on Jan. 23.
Peters Shuts the Door
Checkers goalie Justin Peters made a season-high 41 saves to record his sixth shutout of the season on Saturday, giving him sole possession of second-most in the AHL. In doing so, Peters extended his career high and his own franchise record for most shutouts in a single season, while extending his team record for most total shutouts (seven).
Peters, who participated in his second AHL All-Star Classic in January, has started 15 of the Checkers' last 18 games. He is tied for seventh in the league in games played (36), is tied for third in wins (21), is tied for seventh in save percentage (.921) and is ninth in goals-against average (2.30).
The Checkers now have eight team shutouts this season, which ranks second in the AHL behind Syracuse's nine.
Checkers forward Chris Terry scored the game's only goal with 4:26 remaining in regulation in Abbotsford on Saturday to record his league-leading seventh game-winning goal of the season. That mark extends his own team record for most in a single campaign and gives him sole possession of first place in team history (14).
Six of Terry's game-winners came in the third period or later, including two by way of overtime, and six put the Checkers ahead in what had been a tie game. Terry also has one shootout-winning goal, which does not count towards his overall total.
Terry leads the Checkers and ranks tied for 10th in the AHL with 20 goals this season, marking the second time he has hit the 20-goal mark in his four professional campaigns. He also leads the team and ranks 19th in the league with 42 points.
The Checkers out-scored Abbotsford by a combined 4-0 margin in the third periods on Friday and Saturday, improving their third-period goal differential to plus-29 (67 for, 38 against) this season - the highest differential of any team in any period. Meanwhile, their 67 goals ranks second to Syracuse's 68 third-period goals for the most by any team in any period.
The Checkers' differential in each of the first two periods is much closer, as they are plus-1 in the first period (40 for, 39 against) and plus-3 in the second period (56 for, 53 against).
The Checkers, who have the AHL's best road power play at 27.5 percent, scored two more man-advantage goals in Abbotsford to improve to 13-for-31 (41.9 percent) in their last six road games. Meanwhile, the Checkers are 0-for-15 in their last four games at home, where they have the league's 30th-ranked power play at 11.6 percent.
Overall, the Checkers, who have a significantly higher amount of attempts on the road (138) than at home (86), rank third in the AHL 21.4 percent.
PK is OK
The Checkers killed all 14 power plays they faced over the weekend - seven in each game - to improve to third in the AHL at 86.3 percent. Prior to those games, the Checkers, who are the AHL's third-best disciplined team with an average of 12.8 penalty minutes per game, had not found themselves shorthanded seven times in one game all season.
The team also scored two shorthanded goals on Friday, tying it for fifth in the AHL with eight on the season. The Checkers, who have not allowed a power-play goal since Feb. 14 (16 total attempts over four games), finished the month of February with an 88.2 percent success rate (30-for-34 in eight games).
The Checkers rank in the AHL's top six in average goals scored (3.13 - 6th), average goals allowed (2.50 - 6th), power-play percentage (21.4% - 3rd) and penalty-killing percentage (86.3% - 3rd). They are the only team to rank in the top six in all four categories.
Gragnani's Helping Hand
Despite missing 21 games this season due to injury and illness, Checkers defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani ranks tied for third in the AHL and tied for first among active defensemen with 16 power-play assists. Gragnani, the only player in the AHL to record four power-play assists in a single game this season (at Grand Rapids on Oct. 26), has five assists in his last five games, including four on the man advantage. Seventeen of Gragnani's 21 points this season have come on the power play.
The Checkers have compiled a record of 19-7-4 on the road, giving them a total of 42 points that is tied with Syracuse (21-6-2) for the most in the AHL. Charlotte is currently in the midst of a six-game road swing that marks the third time they have played six or more consecutive games away from Time Warner Cable Arena this season. Only one team has played more road games than the Checkers' 30 this season (San Antonio with 31).
- Justin Shugg has points in each of his last four games (Feb. 16-23; 1g, 3a)
- Jeremy Welsh has goals and points in each of his last two games (Feb. 16-17; 3g, 0a)
- Chris Terry has points in each of his last two games (Feb. 22-23; 1g, 1a)
- Luke Pither has points in each of his last two games (Feb. 22-23; 1g, 1a)
- Jerome Samson has points in each of his last two games (Jan. 4-6; 1g, 1a)
- A.J. Jenks (upper body, Jan. 17) - missed 13 games
- Jerome Samson (upper body, Jan. 6) - missed 18 games
- March 1 - (F) Zac Dalpe reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
- Feb. 28 – (C) Jeremy Welsh reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
- Feb. 28 – (D) Michal Jordan reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
- Feb. 27 – (D) Marc-Andre Gragnani reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
- Feb. 25 – (RW) Andreas Nodl reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)