The Checkers could not have been much more dominant at the start of Friday’s home match-up with Rockford. That made their finish all the more disappointing.
Despite out-shooting their opponents by a final tally of 50-33, including a 21-7 advantage after the first period, the Checkers fell 3-2 in a shootout to the visiting Rockford IceHogs. They trailed for much of the game, needing Zac Dalpe’s equalizer with 3:37 remaining to force overtime.
According to coach Jeff Daniels, Dalpe’s late goal was the lone bright spot to come from the team’s first home game since Oct. 23.
“We got a point, and that’s about it,” he said. “In the first we were good, and then we stopped working in the third and second. Our power play didn’t step up, and their goalie was great.”
Midway through the second period, the Checkers had taken 32 shots on goal, just five shy of their season high. However, they would register just 10 shots in the next 30 minutes, allowing Rockford to close the gap considerably.
“When the shots were coming easy at first, then we started to get cute,” said Dalpe.
“Their goalie kept them in the game, and then they got life from that,” said Daniels. “We didn’t play the same way from there.”
Rockford goalie Alec Richards, who owned a 4.16 goals-against average and a .879 save percentage entering the game, finished the game with 48 saves – the most by any goaltender in the AHL this season. He also stopped three of four Checkers in the shootout, with Drayson Bowman the only player to break through.
“He was the first star obviously,” said Daniels.
“You’ve got to give credit to the goalie,” said Charlotte defenseman Michal Jordan. “He played really well.”
On the other end, Charlotte’s Justin Peters made 30 saves and stopped one of the IceHogs’ four shootout attempts.
Dalpe was one of the only Checker to solve Richards when he tied the game with a blast from the right circle just as a Charlotte power play had expired. With time and space, Dalpe wound up and hit the top corner over Richards’ blocker for his first goal in a total of 11 games at both the NHL and AHL levels.
Despite describing his performance as “just OK” afterwards, Dalpe finished with 2 points, a game-high seven shots and the best chance of any player to win the game in overtime, only to see his rebound effort snared by a sprawled Richards.
“He was good, and I think he got stronger as the game went on,” said Daniels of Dalpe, a member of the AHL All-Rookie Team last season who was beginning his second AHL stint of the season. “He showed what he’s capable of doing.”
Dalpe’s goal was his second point of the night, equaling the offensive production of Jordan. The sophomore blueliner became the team’s fourth-highest goal scorer when he netted his third of the season on a shot from the point that was partially blocked by Richards before entering the net.
The goal, which came midway through the second period, was on the Checkers’ 34th shot of the evening. Their previous season high was 37.
“I had no idea,” said Jordan of how his goal went in. “It was coming off the boards so I just threw it at the net and guys started celebrating.”
Rockford would reclaim the lead just over four minutes later, when Rostislav Olesz, playing his first AHL game in almost exactly five years following Thursday’s assignment from the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, helped set up the IceHogs’ second power-play goal of the evening. Having opened the scoring himself just 1:11 into the second period, Olesz sent a cross-ice pass to Brandon Pirri, who one-timed a shot on net that Andrew Shaw collected for the rebound score.
Charlotte defenseman Justin Krueger was in the penalty box for both of Rockford’s power-play goals, as the visitors scored twice on four chances.
“I think we can be happy about some parts of our game, but not all,” said Dalpe. “I think we need to work on the penalty kill, and on the power play we need to shoot pucks.”
The teams will meet again in just two days, as the Checkers continue a stretch of playing seven of eight games at home.
The Checkers' 21 shots in the first period was a single-period season high, breaking a mark set in their last game in Houston (18 shots in the second period) … The Checkers went 0-4 on the power play and allowed two or more power play goals for the fourth time in 17 games … Only two Checkers – Brett Bellemore and Justin Shugg - did not record a shot on goal … Defenseman Chris Murray, recalled from ECHL Florida earlier in the day, made his Checkers debut in place of the injured Bobby Sanguinetti … Jared Staal was a healthy scratch for Charlotte ... During the game, fans voted Jordan as the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game.