The Midwest Division lead will be on the line as the Checkers begin a six-game home stand with back-to-back games against the Milwaukee Admirals.
Charlotte (11-6-2) currently leads Milwaukee (10-4-1) by three points in the standings, with the Admirals having played four fewer games. With wins this weekend, the Checkers could further distance themselves from one of the teams it’s been neck-and-neck with all season.
Saturday’s meeting will mark the second of the eight-game season series between the two clubs, with the Admirals having taken a 3-1 decision in Milwaukee back on Nov. 4.
The Checkers are hoping that a stretch of 10 goals scored in their last two games will be the springboard to an offense that had become stagnant over the previous few weeks. Though coach Jeff Daniels had stressed that his players could do more to get to loose pucks around the opposition net, a few individual breakouts have also been encouraging.
Among those was a three-point performance by Riley Nash in the Checkers’ 6-3 win in Norfolk Wednesday, which included the second-year center’s second goal of the season and ended a 14-game drought.
“One of his strengths is the way he sees the ice and I’ve liked what he’s done away from the puck, but he’s a guy that we count upon to be part of the offense,” said Daniels of Nash. “He puts a lot of pressure on himself to do that.”
As last season’s leading goal scorer with 34 tallies, winger Chris Terry finds himself well short of that pace this season with just 2 in 17 games. However, his assist totals are way up, as he currently leads the team 14 helpers including the fourth 3-assist game of his career on Wednesday.
“I’m sure he’s frustrated that he hasn’t scored more goals, but he has been making plays,” said Daniels. “He’s got such a good shot and has just been snake bit, but I still think that once he gets that next goal he’s going to go on a tear.”
Add those performances to the recent hot streaks of team points leaders Jon Matsumoto (6 points in his last four) and Jerome Samson (5 points in his last two), and it would seem the Checkers are poised to start filling up the score sheet with more regularity.
Defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti remains doubtful to play this weekend with a lower-body injury, with ECHL recall Chris Murry to play in his stead if needed. Center Cedric McNicoll will likely remain out through the weekend.
The Admirals come to Charlotte with one of the most impressive active team streaks in hockey, having taken at least one point in 23 consecutive road games dating back to last season. Their last regulation loss outside of Milwaukee came nearly a full calendar year ago on Jan. 13, 2011, when the team lost 3-0 to the now-relocated Manitoba Moose.
Though most of that streak was put together last season, the Admirals have picked up where they left off under rookie head coach and former NHL star Kirk Muller. Milwaukee is 6-0-1 on the road this season, with a shootout loss to the Western Conference’s No. 1 team, the Abbotsford Heat, their only blemish thus far. Milwaukee has continued its strong play since topping the Checkers three weeks ago, winning four of six games.
“Just like their NHL team in Nashville, they’re a very disciplined and take a lot of pride in their work ethic,” said Daniels of the Admirals, who average fewer penalty minutes per game than all but one other team (St. John’s). “That’s a really impressive streak they’ve got going, and I’m sure they’ll want to keep it going.”
The Admirals are led by goalie Jeremy Smith, a former junior hockey teammate of Brett Bellemore, Justin Peters and Chris Terry with the Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers who ranks fourth in AHL goals-against average (2.06) and tied for second in wins (nine). Rookie defenseman Ryan Ellis, the 11th overall pick of the NHL’s Nashville Predators in 2009, ranks tied for seventh among all league defensemen in scoring with 11 points (4g, 7a) in 15 games.
Up front, NHL veteran Niclas Bergfors is expected to play his first AHL game since the 2008-09 season on Saturday, as the Predators assigned him to Milwaukee on Wednesday. The former first-round pick of the New Jersey Devils (23rd overall in 2005) recorded 51 points (22g, 29a) in 66 games in his most recent AHL campaign with the Lowell Devils.
• The Checkers have scored first in just seven of their 19 games this season, tying them for the fewest amount of “first goals” in the league. When they do record the first goal, the Checkers are 6-1-0.
• Following a stretch in which he recorded just 4 points in 10 games, Checkers leading scorer Jon Matsumoto has begun to heat up again, recording 6 points (4g, 2a) in his last five contests. He most recently recorded a goal and an assist during Wednesday’s win in Norfolk, marking his sixth multi-point game of the season and second in as many contests. Matsumoto is currently tied with Jerome Samson for the team’s scoring lead with 19 points (8g, 11a) and for 12th place in overall AHL scoring.
• Though well behind his goal-scoring pace from last season, Checkers forward Chris Terry is on track for 52 assists, a mark that would top his previous career high by 22. Terry currently leads the team with 12 assists, including his fourth career 3-helper game in Norfolk on Wednesday. The third-year forward has assists in each of his last five games, marking a new career high. He has 7 assists during that stretch, which ties him for the longest active streak in the AHL.
• With 3 goals, Charlotte defenseman Michal Jordan is already just 1 goal shy of matching his rookie total from last season. Jordan recorded an assist in Wednesday’s win in Norfolk, giving him points in three consecutive games (1g, 3a). The Czech Republic native leads all Checkers defensemen in goals and points (9).
• Following a season-long four-game scoring drought, Jerome Samson has 5 points in his last two games (2g, 3a), marking his most prolific two-game stretch of the season. Samson, who leads the Checkers with 9 goals and is tied with Jon Matsumoto for the team lead in points (19), is the AHL’s leader in shots on goal with 92 – 11 more than any other player. He has recorded an average of 4.84 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. 21 - (C) Brett Sutter recalled by Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
• Nov. 21 - (LW) Zach Boychuk reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
• Nov. 21 - (C) Zac Dalpe reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
• Nov. 19 - (C) Zac Dalpe recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
• Nov. 25 – (D) Roman Jose recalled to Nashville (NHL) from Milwaukee
• Nov. 23 – (F) Niclas Bergfors assigned to Milwaukee from Nashville (NHL)