The 5 p.m. start is the first of 10 games at Time Warner Cable Arena in March, following a month of February that featured just two. The Checkers, who just completed a six-game road swing with a record of 4-2-0, will play 14 of their next 17 at home leading right up to the last home game of the regular season on April 12.
Charlotte and its South Division rival from Oklahoma City have split six previous meetings this season, with this two-game set rounding out their regular-season slate. Three of the previous engagements were decided by four or more goals, including a 7-2 Barons win in Charlotte on Nov. 25, a 7-0 Checkers triumph in Oklahoma City on Jan. 11 and a 7-3 home victory for the Barons in the last meeting on Feb. 1.
Though they’ll be reasonably pleased with the overall amount of points earned on their latest major road swing, the most recent game stung in more ways than one.
During the 6-2 loss in Norfolk on Friday – other than the above-mentioned Oklahoma City games, it represented the only time the Checkers have lost by four or more goals this season – forwards Zac Dalpe and Andreas Nodl left the game with injuries. Both were playing their first game for Charlotte since the NHL’s Hurricanes reassigned them earlier in the week.
Prior to a center-ice collision in the second period, Dalpe had notched a goal and an assist that put Charlotte up 2-0 just 10 minutes in, giving him 10 points (6g, 4a) in his last eight AHL games. Meanwhile, Nodl, who crumpled to the ice following a hit along the boards in the third period, had picked up one assist to bring his point total to five (1g, 4a) in six Checkers games. Updates: Nodl is out for the season, Dalpe will miss several games, Brett Sutter has been recalled to Carolina and defenseman Tommi Kivisto has been reassigned to ECHL Florida. More info here
During an off day Saturday, coach Jeff Daniels had no update on the status of either player. The Checkers had two healthy scratches at forward on Friday – David Rutherford and Brody Sutter – making an additional recall unnecessary even if both are unable to play, though Daniels may still opt to acquire insurance.
Justin Peters, who had a season-high, 41-save shutout in Abbotsford last Saturday, should be back between the pipes after receiving an off day Friday. He has started 15 of the Checkers’ last 19 games, making it a distinct possibility that he will face the Barons on both nights.
Even after a six-hour bus ride from Norfolk that ended very early Saturday morning, the Checkers should have a distinct rest advantage over tonight’s opponents. The Barons are in the midst of one of the more difficult three-in-three sets one is likely to find in the AHL, as they faced the Texas Stars in Austin at 8 p.m. Saturday before heading to Charlotte early the next morning for today’s late-afternoon start.
The Barons, who are note expected to arrive in Charlotte until around 11 a.m. today, even required extra hockey to secure a 5-4 shootout win over the first-place Stars. NHL veteran Jonathan Cheechoo has three points in that game, giving him 18 (8g, 10a) in just 13 games since signing with the Barons at the end of the lockout in late January. The former Rocket Richard Trophy winner as the NHL’s top goal scorer in 2005-06 has six multi-point games this season, including a five-point outing against the Checkers on Feb. 1.
Thanks to the efforts of Cheechoo and others, the Barons have still proven capable of scoring in bunches even after losing NHL stars Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, up-and-comer Justin Schultz and a handful of others to the Edmonton Oilers at the end of the lockout. Starting with their rout of Charlotte, they have scored three or more goals in seven of their last nine games, six of which were victories.
Another experienced NHL player who joined the team around the same time, 36-year-old defenseman Brett Clark, has 12 points (1g, 11a) in 13 games with the team.
The Barons will be without reigning AHL Goaltender of the Year Yann Danis, who is on NHL assignment with the Oilers. Rookies Niko Hovinen and Olivier Roy formed the team’s tandem on Saturday, with Hovinen stopping 22 of 26 shots in regulation and overtime and all four in the shootout. Roy has played parts of two games against the Checkers this season, going 0-1-0 with a 3.28 goals-against average and .900 save percentage.
Peters Shuts the Door
Checkers goalie Justin Peters made a season-high 41 saves to record his sixth shutout of the season on Feb. 23, 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 ninth in the league in games played (36), is tied for fourth in wins (21), is tied for seventh in save percentage (.921) and is tied for eighth 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 Feb. 23 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 21 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 20th in the league with 43 points, 27 of which have come in his last 22 games (12g, 15a).
Tale of Two Power Plays
The Checkers, who have the AHL's best road power play at 26.7 percent, scored another man-advantage goal in Norfolk on Friday and are now 14-for-39 (35.9 percent) in their last seven 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 (146) than at home (86), rank fourth in the AHL 21.1 percent.
PK is OK
The Checkers have not allowed a power-play goal in their last five games, going 20-for-20 in that span. The AHL's third-best disciplined team (13.0 penalty minutes per game) now has the league's second-best penalty kill at 86.5 percent. Together with their fourth-ranked power play, the Checkers are the only AHL team to rank in top seven in both special teams categories.
The team scored two shorthanded goals on Feb. 23, tying it for fifth in the AHL with eight on the season.
Gragnani's Helping Hand
Despite missing 21 games this season due to injury and illness, Checkers defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani ranks tied for second in the AHL and tied for first among active players with 17 power-play assists (Justin Schultz, in the NHL since early January, has 18). 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 six assists in his last six games, including five on the man advantage. Eighteen of Gragnani's 22 points this season have come on the power play.
Chris Terry has points in each of his last three games (Feb. 22-March 1; 2g, 1a)
Michal Jordan has points in each of his last two games (Feb. 10-March 1; 1g, 2a)
Andreas Nodl has assists and points in each of his last two games (Jan. 26-March 1; 0g, 2a)
Jerome Samson has points in each of his last two games (Jan. 4-6; 1g, 1a)
A.J. Jenks (upper body, Jan. 17) - missed 14 games
Jerome Samson (upper body, Jan. 6) - missed 19 games
March 1 - (C) 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)