It wasn’t always pretty, but then again, no one was expecting that it would be.
The Checkers opened the preseason with a 2-0 win over Lake Erie at on Friday in the first of a two-game weekend set with the Monsters. Goaltender Mike Murphy made 23 saves in his first game action of the year, having not appeared in a game during Carolina Hurricanes camp, while Matt Pistilli scored the winning goal in the first period.
The game featured a strong start from the Checkers, who out-shot Lake Erie 20-7 in the first period but then hit a lull in the second before finishing strong.
“They played hard,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “It was a little bit sloppy at times but it was the first game in a while for a lot of these guys.
“Overall, we were looking for an effort and it was there.”
Murphy showed no rust from his long layoff, as he had not appeared in a competitive game since the Checkers’ playoff run last season. Some of his best saves came near the beginning of the third period with his team holding on to a narrow 1-0 lead, but his performance ensured that was all they would need until Chris Durno iced the game with an empty-netter in the closing seconds.
“I feel really good,” said Murphy, who will battle Justin Peters for playing time throughout the season. “It was good working with (Hurricanes coach) Tom Barrasso and just from watching Cam Ward and Brian Boucher I picked up a lot of tips.”
“When he was tested he made some saves,” said Daniels. “There are some communication things we have to work on, but that’s a team thing rather than just the goaltender.”
Friday’s game featured a handful of players battling for jobs with the team, as Daniels will make an undetermined number of cuts following Saturday's contest. Pistilli, who played a chunk of games with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades last season, did himself a favor with his goal, in which he finished a two-on-one play that was created by a turnover forced by rookie Justin Shugg on the power play.
“I thought I had a good camp in Carolina and that’s carried over into Charlotte,” said Pistilli, an undrafted third-year pro.
“Last season he went to Florida, scored a lot of points and got his confidence up, and when he came back up he was a good player for us,” said Daniels of Pistilli, who scored 19 points in 50 AHL games but averaged over a point per game in Florida. “Now that he’s got his confidence, he’s looking to do it at the AHL level.”
Pistilli nearly added a second goal in the period, but his would-be tally was disallowed as he was judged to have batted a puck out of mid-air with his hand and into the net.
Despite his misfortune, Pistilli agreed with the call.
“I gave it a left hook into the net,” he admitted, adding that his intention was to hit it with his stick. “I took a bit of boxing in the summer.”
The game had a physical tone to it, including four fights that were each set up by hard and sometimes late hits along the boards. Like the series of missed passes, turnovers and penalties that marked the team’s second period, the roughhousing did not come as a surprise.
“It always is (physical) in the preseason,” said Chris Terry. “Guys are hungry to get going and hungry to bang bodies.”
The Checkers and Monsters face off again Saturday at 1 p.m. Daniels said that the game would include some of his more established players who sat out on Friday – a group that includes Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk, Bobby Sanguinetti and Justin Peters.
“It’s tough when you’ve only got two preseason games and guys that are trying to make the team, but at the same time you’ve got veterans that need to play,” said Daniels.
NOTES: Jared Staal and Chris Durno tied for the team lead with five shots on goal… The Checkers finished 1-9 on the power play, including a brief two-man advantage in the second period. Lake Erie was 0-5… In addition to Soryal, Checkers defensemen Ryan Donald, Rasmus Rissanen and Mathieu Roy also dropped the gloves.