The Checkers aren’t thrilled with how they got there, but they won’t complain about the result.
Matt Pistilli scored a highlight-reel winner early the third period and Justin Peters made 25 saves in relief of the injured Mike Murphy as the Checkers beat Rockford 4-3 on Sunday at Time Warner Cable Arena. Charlotte finished its two-game weekend set with the IceHogs with three out of a possible four points, having lost in a shootout on Friday.
Though his team improved its overall record to 10-6-2 and is guaranteed to finish the day with at least a share of the Midwest Division lead, Checkers coach Jeff Daniels will be looking for more in Wednesday’s trip to Norfolk. None too pleased after Friday’s game, he was only marginally more upbeat following Sunday’s victory.
“We’re not on our game right now, but it was good to win,” he said. “We’re just sloppy. We’re cheating to try to score that way and we had a lack of discipline in the third period. There are a lot of areas to address right now.”
“I don’t think it was our best effort,” said Pistilli. “I think a lot of guys aren’t feeling good about their offense right now, but once we get going we’re going to be a really good team in this league.”
Peters, who made 28 saves on Friday, had to make a surprise entrance into Sunday’s game after Murphy was unable to come out for the second period due to injury. Despite coming in cold, Peters stopped all but one shot, allowing a back-door goal by Rostislav Olesz just five seconds after a Rockford power play had expired that made the score 4-3.
“You don’t have a lot of notice, but your goal when you’re not playing is to be ready and expect the unexpected,” said Peters.
“He was probably the reason we won the game,” said Daniels. “He’s a very focused individual.”
After Chris Durno had given the Checkers a 3-2 lead early in the second, Pistilli would strike in the third when he collected a Rockford turnover, made a power move to the outside of IceHogs defenseman Dylan Olsen and sent a backhand shot on net that went off a stick and into the top corner behind goalie Alec Richards.
“I don’t think the boys are playing the best offensive game right now, so sometimes you need those bounces,” said Pistilli.
The goal was Pistilli’s second in three games since shaving his moustache, grown as part of the team’s Movember charitable efforts, in an attempt to reverse its “evil powers.” Asked if he would now encourage teammates to do the same in order to reverse their own scoring funks, Pistilli said he would not.
“I think it’s just me,” he said. “I’m just a weird person in general.”
Pistilli’s goal prompted the IceHogs to change goaltenders, with Alexander Salak entering the game in place of Richards. On Friday, Richards stopped 48 shots, the most by any AHL goaltender in a single game this season, but was considerably less successful against the Checkers on Sunday.
In addition to the goals by Durno and Pistilli, Richards also allowed first-period tallies by Chris Murray, who was recalled on Friday in place of the injured Bobby Sanguinetti, and Jon Matsumoto. Though he entered the game tied for the lead in scoring by ECHL defensemen, Murray’s goal, a slap shot from the point that was tipped in by Rockford’s Philippe Paradis, was just his fourth in 103 AHL games.
“We probably had better chances the other night, but it was good to capitalize on the ones we had,” said Daniels.
Matsumoto’s goal, which tied him with Jerome Samson for the team lead with seven and made the score 2-1 late in the first period, came on a perfect cross-crease pass from Chris Terry just seconds after a Charlotte power play had ended.
Just minutes later, Rockford tied the game at 2-2 with just 10 seconds left in the period on a goal by Jimmy Hayes that would prove to be Murphy’s final play of the game. The Checkers’ goaltender, who watched the rest of the game from the bench, is expected to return to practice on Tuesday and make the trip to Norfolk.
Sanguinetti missed his second consecutive game with a lower-body injury … Charlotte defenseman Michal Jordan earned an assist on Murray’s goal, giving him 3 points in his last two games. Five of his 8 points this season have come against Rockford … Terry’s assist extended his team-high points streak to four games. He had one assist in each contest … Drayson Bowman recorded a plus-1 rating, making him plus-7 for the season and extending his team high … Playing his first AHL games in five years after the Chicago Blackhawks sent him to Rockford, Olesz had 4 points (2g, 2a) in two games against the Checkers ... Fans voted Peters the winner of the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game.