October 16, 2011 4:38 PM
On nights when the Checkers’ offense doesn’t come out firing right away, it seems they’ll be able to rely on their goaltending to buy some time.
Mike Murphy made 31 saves, including 14 in the first period, as the Checkers broke a third-period deadlock en route to an eventual 3-1 win over Peoria at Time Warner Cable Arena Sunday evening. Riley Nash, Jon Matsumoto and Drayson Bowman scored the goals for Charlotte, which had earlier missed several chances to add to their lead, including on a two-man advantage to close the second period. With their second straight win at home, the Checkers improved to 2-1-1 on the young season.
Murphy, who also earned his fourth career assist on Nash’s power-play goal in the second period, recorded his first victory of the campaign, having stopped 40 shots in the team’s 4-3 loss to Norfolk last week.
“They’re an asset for our team right now,” said coach Jeff Daniels, referring to his goaltending tandem of Murphy and Justin Peters.
“It’s my third year pro, and I’ve really changed my practice habits,” said Murphy of his strong start to the season. “Last year’s playoff run was also huge for my confidence.”
Murphy’s best saves came when he dove across the crease to deny a wraparound chance in the first and when he stacked the pads to stop Peoria’s T.J. Hensick on an odd-man rush in the second. The only blemish came when the puck popped out of his glove after a nice save on Brett Sterling and rolled down Murphy's back and onto the ice for the rebound score.
“It was kind of a funny goal,” said Murphy.
After a first period that saw them take an early 2-0 lead over the Rivermen one night earlier, the Checkers didn’t break through until Nash scored his first of the season at the 4:29 mark of the second. It wasn’t exactly the traditional power-play goal, with defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti finding Nash entering the zone with speed before the center used two defensemen as a screen before firing a puck high on goaltender Ben Bishop.
Charlotte continued to control the pace of play for most of the second but had several chances rebuffed, including three Matt Pistilli chances from in close and their late five-on-three power play, which saw Chris Terry nearly miss on a pair of open looks.
While failed two-man advantages can often be discouraging, particularly when a team has an entire intermission to think about it, that wasn’t the case for the Checkers on Sunday.
“Going into it, we said that no matter if we score or not, we can’t lose our focus,” said Daniels.
After Jon Matsumoto scored the go-ahead goal on a slap shot that perfectly hit the corner over the 6-foot-7 Bishop’s left shoulder – good for the center’s ninth point in four games and a tie for the AHL lead at the conclusion of Sunday’s game – the Checkers would come good on their chance at redemption.
With around seven minutes left in regulation and Charlotte on yet another five-on-three power play, Bowman finished a nice passing play involving Terry and Zach Boychuk, who manned the point on the team’s five-forward unit. It was Bowman’s third goal on the season, which tied him with Matsumoto and Jerome Samson for the team lead.
“Obviously it’s tough getting sent down (from the NHL) like anyone will tell you, but to get three goals in the first couple of games has been good for me,” said Bowman. “I feel like my goal scoring has fallen off in the last couple of years, so it’s nice to get some early.”
Matsumoto, another player who spent time with the Carolina Hurricanes last season, is also enjoying a hot start, although he may not have foreseen it from his time with the big club’s training camp last month.
“I didn’t feel that great in Raleigh, but coming down here it’s been a lot better,” he said. “Maybe I was just thinking too much there, I don’t really know.”
Matsumoto, who previously spent his offseasons in Philadelphia, lived in Raleigh all summer training at the Athletic Performance Center, which he said has been beneficial.
“I remember towards the end of last summer working out with Jamie Holt at APC in Raleigh, and I felt like it helped me a lot,” he said. “I thought a whole summer of those workouts would help me even more this season.”
“Take away the points, I like his all-around game,” said Daniels of Matsumoto. “He’s getting rewarded for the things he’s doing away from the puck at both ends of the rink.”
With former Checker Zac Dalpe injured and the Hurricanes set to recall another forward before their next game on Tuesday, all three of Sunday’s goal scorers make good candidates, as would Boychuk, Samson and potentially a player like Brett Sutter, should the team require someone to fill a checking role on the fourth line.
It won’t be an easy decision for Hurricanes’ management, but that’s usually a good sign that things are going well for the Checkers.
Fans voted Murphy the “Roll Up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game Presented by Community Blood Center of the Carolinas. For more information on the program, click here.
NOTES: The Checkers finished the night 2-8 on the power play while killing all four Peoria man advantages ... Sanguinetti's assist was his fourth of the season, good for the team lead among blue liners ... All three of Murphy's previous assists came last season ... Justin Soryal was whistled for four minor penalties, including one double minor, but took an opposing player to the penalty box with him each time ... Soryal, Rasmus Rissanen and Brett Sutter were the only Checkers who did not record a shot on goal.