The Norfolk Admirals, Charlotte’s divisional opponent from last season, make their first visit of the season to Time Warner Cable Arena tonight. The teams have already met twice this season in Norfolk, with the Admirals winning both games, one of which was settled in overtime.
That series gives Norfolk a three-point lead in the GEICO Challenge Cup, which will be awarded to the team that finishes the eight-game season series with the best head-to-head record.
Both teams will be playing their third game in three nights tonight, though Charlotte has the added benefit of staying home for all three while Norfolk copes with an early morning arrival in the Queen City following Saturday’s shootout loss to Binghamton in their home arena.
Update: Prior to the game, the Checkers assigned defenseman Ryan Donald to the ECHL's Florida Everblades, still leaving the team with seven healthy defensemen.
Donald, a 25-year-old second-year pro, did not appear in a regular season game with the Checkers.
The Checkers enter tonight’s game having split their back-to-back home games against Houston on Friday and Saturday. Though that set ended up as a simple one-win-one-loss segment of the schedule, it was a tug of war that featured dominant stretches by the Checkers, dramatic late goals by the opposition and, finally, a shootout victory on Saturday.
As much as they were able to erase the memory of Friday’s heartbreaking loss to put in a good effort the following night, the Checkers will have little time to reflect before hitting the ice again for their third game in 70 hours.
“We’re going to have to grind it out, find a way to keep the shifts short and do all the little things to help us win,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels.
With Justin Peters out with an injury he suffered midway through Houston’s furious two-goals-in-eight-seconds comeback on Friday, Checkers goaltender Mike Murphy is likely to make his third consecutive appearance in goal. Having allowed two goals on 11 shots in relief of Peters as his team sagged in front of him on Friday, Murphy rebounded very nicely on Saturday, making 24 saves in regulation and overtime and five more in the shootout.
“I wasn’t too worried about (Friday’s) game, because you can only worry about things you can control,” said Murphy, who is 2-2-0 with a 2.47 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. “I felt great coming into (Friday’s) game, but that’s just the way things happen sometimes.”
Daniels said Saturday that he expects Peters to return to practice on Tuesday, with Florida recall John Muse to stay with the team for tonight’s contest.
Since taking a maximum four points against the Checkers during the season’s opening weekend, Norfolk has posted a 2-1-1 record to rank tied for the most points in the Eastern Conference. Their most recent series with Binghamton featured a 7-0 blowout victory on Friday followed by Saturday’s penalty-filled shootout loss.
Boasting the league’s top offense (an average of five goals per game), the Admiral have a number of players on the individual leaderboard. Carter Ashton, a late first-round pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2009, leads all AHL rookies and ranks tied for third in overall scoring with nine points (5g, 4a) in six games. He posted three goals in the first series against the Checkers, including an overtime winner, to earn AHL Player of the Week honors. Fellow rookies Cory Conacher (4g, 4a) and Tyler Johnson (3g, 3a) also rank among the league’s top first-year players.
On the blue line, the Admirals are led by Mark Barberio, whose six points (1g, 5a) put him in a three-way tie for first among AHL defensemen. His plus-7 plus/minus rating is also tied for the league lead with teammate Trevor Smith, among others. Most of his damage has come on the power play, where Nofolk ranks tied for third in the league with a 30 percent conversion rate. The Admirals are more vulnerable on the penalty kill, where they rank 26th.
There could be more of physical play that marked the first series of the season between Charlotte and Norfolk, with the Admirals ranking third in the league in penalty minutes per contest (23.88).
• Rookie defenseman Justin Faulk, who the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes assigned to Charlotte last week, has two points (1g, 1a) in his only two career AHL regular-season games. The 19-year-old scored his first professional goal near the beginning of the third period on Saturday, becoming only the second Checkers defenseman to find the back of the net this season. Mathieu Roy, who scored in the season opener at Norfolk, is the other.
• Center Jon Matsumoto leads the Checkers and ranks tied for third in the AHL in scoring with nine points (3g, 6a). He recorded at least one point the team’s first four games, but has not found the score sheet in two consecutive contests.
• Forward Jerome Samson posted a season-high six shots on both Friday and Saturday to pull himself into second place in the AHL in that category. The 24-year-old native of Greenfield Park, Quebec, finished fifth in the league last season despite playing in just 53 games.
• Checkers forward Chris Terry is tied for the AHL lead with two shootout goals, having found the back of the net in both of the team’s shootout appearances. The third-year pro, who led the team with 34 goals last season, has not yet found the back of the net during normal play.
Oct. 22 – Goaltender John Muse recalled to Charlotte by Florida (ECHL)
Oct. 19 – Defenseman Justin Faulk assigned to Charlotte by Carolina (NHL)
Oct. 18 – Center Brett Sutter recalled to Carolina from Charlotte
Oct. 21 – Defenseman Scott Jackson assigned to Norfolk by Tampa Bay (NHL)
Oct. 20 – Defenseman Charles Landry assigned to Norfolk by Tampa Bay (NHL)