Though the Checkers’ first two games contained some fine individual performances, coach Jeff Daniels was frank about the state of his team heading into a long week of practices.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said.
Specifically, Daniels mentioned his squad’s defensive effort. The Checkers allowed 44 shots in each game of a back-to-back set in Norfolk over the weekend that saw them come away with just one point via a 6-5 overtime loss on Friday. Though the eight goals scored by the team – led by center Jon Matsumoto, who currently paces the AHL with six points, five Checkers averaged a point per game or better - was a good sign of things to come, that it wasn’t enough to win underscored Daniels’ point.
“Allowing 40 shots a game is not going to be good enough,” he said following Monday’s practice at Extreme Ice Center. “It’s a team thing - I really want to clarify that, because when you say you need to improve your defense the first thing people look at is the six guys on the back end. Our forwards need to do a better job of not leaving the zone until the puck does and winning battles in our end.
“We know we’ll score goals, but we need to take care of that first.”
The team now has six full days before its next game – the Checkers’ Saturday home opener at Time Warner Cable Arena. Daniels said that he was glad for the time off as he attempts to work out the kinks in the team’s start and mesh new line combinations designed to better spread the team’s offensive and defensive players.
For example, the Checker’s new groups saw Nicolas Blanchard, a veteran winger who scored 18 points in 72 games last season, moved to a line with Matsumoto and Drayson Bowman, two of the team’s biggest scoring threats thus far. Additionally, Brett Sutter is now centering Chris Terry and Zach Boychuk, while Riley Nash skates with Chris Durno and Jerome Samson.
“When you lose two games you’ve got to look at mixing things up,” said Daniels.
The Checkers coach added that he was unsure about the status of defenseman Michal Jordan, who left the second game with Norfolk during the first period and did not return. He remains a candidate to play on Saturday, but nothing has been determined at this point while the player makes doctor visits.
Goaltender Justin Peters, who stopped 39 shots in the first game against Norfolk, took a spill during skating drills towards the end of Monday’s practice that looked innocent enough – the typical good-natured cheers could initially be heard from witnessing teammates – but ultimately resulted in the player having to be helped off the ice.
Following practice, Daniels said that Peters, who was still undergoing evaluation at the time, had suffered a cramp.