November 18, 2011 8:19 AM
The Checkers return home tonight for their first game at Time Warner Cable in nearly a month as they take on the Rockford IceHogs in the first of a two-game weekend set.
Charlotte (9-6-1) enters Friday’s game on a two-game home winning streak, although the last contest came all the way back on Oct. 23 as they topped the Norfolk Admirals by a 3-1 score. Long layoff aside, they’ll look to add to that run as they begin a stretch of playing eight of their next nine contests at home, where they’re 4-1-0 this season.
Now the Western Conference’s No. 6 seed, the Checkers will also be looking to reclaim their Midwest Division lead from the Peoria Rivermen, who have won each of their last four games. Fellow divisional opponent Rockford (5-8-1) checks in at 14th place in the conference, having dropped 8 of their last 10 games, including a 4-2 setback to the Checkers on Nov. 6. The IceHogs have been much better on the road, where they’ve recorded four of their five victories.
UPDATE: Defenseman Chris Murray has been recalled from ECHL Florida to replace Bobby Sanguinetti, who is out with an injury tonight.
Additionally, forward Scott Pitt has been released from his PTO. Jared Staal will be a healthy extra tonight, while Justin Peters gets the nod in goal.
The Checkers’ roster underwent a significant shakeup on Thursday, with the Carolina Hurricanes recalling defenseman Justin Faulk and reassigning center Zac Dalpe.
Faulk, one of the organization’s top defensive prospects at just 19 years of age, was a key part of the Checkers’ blue line during his 12-game stint with the team, scoring 6 points (2g, 4a) and playing extensively in all situations. Despite his status as the youngest player in the AHL at the time of his recall, Faulk regularly logged the most ice time of all Charlotte defensemen, meaning others, including rookies Justin Krueger and Rasmus Rissanen, who alternated as healthy scratches with Faulk on the roster, will see increased responsibilities.
At a time when coach Jeff Daniels has lamented the team’s lack of recent goal scoring, the defense’s loss will be the offense’s gain. Dalpe, 22, was nearly a point-per-game player with the Checkers last season, scoring 57 points (23g, 34a) in just 61 games to earn AHL All-Rookie honors after a two-year career at Ohio State. Dalpe has played nine of his 11 games this season in the NHL, and has yet to register a point for either the Checkers or the Hurricanes.
The Checkers are expected to make two scratches at forward tonight, not including the injured Cedric McNicoll.
Since losing to Charlotte in game six of the Checkers’ record nine-game road swing, the IceHogs have gone 1-2-1. In the first of eight match-ups between the two teams, Rockford got off to a slow start against the Checkers, trailing 3-0 after the first period on goals by Jared Staal, Michal Jordan and Jerome Samson, the latter of whom would add a second in the following period.
Though the first period of that contest was attributed to rusty Rockford having an entire week off while the sharper Checkers were playing their third game in three nights, the opposite will be true tonight. Rockford most recently played on Wednesday in Oklahoma City (a 5-4 loss), while the Checkers have been off since Sunday’s 5-2 loss in Houston.
Defenseman Brian Connelly has been Rockford’s most productive player, scoring 13 points (1g, 12a) in 14 games to tie for second among all AHL defensemen in points and tie for first in assists. He also leads all league blueliners in shots with 49 and ranks second on team scoring behind center Brett McLean, a 33-year-old veteran of 385 NHL games who has 14 points (5g, 9a).
Neither of the IceHogs’ two goaltenders, Alec Richard and Alexander Salak, have posted sparking numbers this season. Salak, who has played seven games to Richards’ nine, has the better record of the two with a 3.54 goals-against average and .882 save percentage for Rockford, which has statistically the worst defense in the league with an average of 3.86 goals allowed per contest. Salak got the last start against the Checkers, allowing four goals on 33 shots.
The IceHogs will have to do without points-per-game leader Ben Smith (10 points in nine contests), who the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks recalled on Thursday. However, former first-round pick Rostislav Olesz (7th overall to Florida in 2004) is headed the other way and is expected to play his first AHL game since the 2006-07 season tonight.
Rockford’s power play checks in around the league average (17.4 percent, 17th AHL), though their penalty kill has struggled, ranking 29th in the league at just 74.3 percent. The Checkers went 2-7 on the man advantage in the first meeting this season and killed all four Rockford power plays.
• Charlotte has had dramatically different fortunes in their second and third periods this season, as they sport a +10 goal differential in the second period and a -10 differential in the third. Their 20 goals scored in the second period puts them in a four-way tie for most in the league, while their 19 goals allowed in the third are more than just four other teams. The team’s first periods are more even, with the team sporting a +2 differential (12 for, 10 against).
• The goaltending tandem of Mike Murphy and Justin Peters has combined to give the Checkers a goals-against average of 2.50, which ranks sixth in the AHL despite the Checkers allowing an average of 32 shots per game, more than all but six other teams. Both goaltenders have contributed equally with nearly identical statistics on the season – they share a 2.36 goals against average to tie for 15th in the league, while Murphy’s save percentage (.926 – t-8th AHL) narrowly eclipses that of Peters (.924 – 12th AHL).
Since returning from injury on Nov. 5, Peters has stopped 84 of 88 shots for a .955 save percentage and 1.34 goals-against average, posting a record of 2-1-0.
• Checkers center Jon Matsumoto became the first player on his team to score goals in consecutive games this season when he tallied Saturday in Oklahoma City and Sunday in Houston, ending a drought in which he scored just once in his previous 10 contests. With three points in his last four games, Matsumoto (6g, 9a) has reclaimed the team’s scoring lead from Jerome Samson and ranks tied for 14th in the AHL. He and Drayson Bowman (2 assists in two games) are the only Checkers players with active point streaks.
• Jerome Samson is the AHL’s leader in shots on goal with 83 – 19 more than any other player. He has recorded an average of 5.19 shots per game this season, which is the highest pace of his five-year AHL career. Samson has finished the 2009-10 season (an average of 4.48 shots per game) as the league leader in shots, and ranked first at the time of his Feb. 19 recall to the Carolina Hurricanes last season (4.62 shots per game).
• Nov. 17 – (D) Justin Faulk recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
• Nov. 17 – (C) Zac Dalpe reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
• Nov. 17 – (RW) Ben Smith recalled to Chicago (NHL) from Rockford
• Nov. 17 – (LW) Rostislav Olesz assigned to Rockford from Chicago (NHL)
• Nov. 13 – (RW) Chris DiDomenico assigned to Toledo (ECHL) from Rockford