Tonight’s game, the first of a back-to-back set that continues Friday night, will be the first chance the new Midwest Division rivals will have to get to know one another. No other AHL team has been as successful against its own division as the Checkers, who have posted a record of 6-1-1 in previous games against Milwaukee, Peoria and Rockford, with Chicago the only Midwest team they have not yet faced.
Chicago, which holds an overall record of 11-9-4, is 7-6-1 against its division this season.
As they aim to break their current three-game losing streak, the Checkers will return to the goaltender that provided their most recent victory on Dec. 4. On Wednesday, the Carolina Hurricanes reassigned Mike Murphy to Charlotte, with Justin Peters heading the opposite direction.
By way of avoiding the Checkers’ recent slide, Murphy now has the better statistics of the two goaltenders by a narrow margin. Aside from holding perfect ratios from his two recent NHL relief appearances, Murphy has reclaimed the AHL team lead in goals-against average (2.44) and save percentage (.922) from Peters, who surged ahead after his Goaltender of the Month performance in November.
It seems as though the Checkers could be without Peters for a significant chunk of time, with the Hurricanes’ Brian Boucher now expected to be sidelined around two months with a lower-body injury. Forward Drayson Bowman, the Checkers’ No. 3 goal scorer, may also see an extended NHL stay with news that Jeff Skinner is out indefinitely with a concussion. It appears that rookie Justin Shugg will serve as Bowman’s immediate replacement, as he was skating on the left wing with Zac Dalpe and Chris Terry on Wednesday.
7th Western Conference
GOALS / GAME
GOALS ALLOWED / GAME
PIM / GAME
The Wolves, under former Edmonton Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish, arrive in Charlotte having won back-to-back home games against Milwaukee and Grand Rapids last weekend. Those victories ended a season-long five-game losing streak that included one shootout loss and one overtime loss.
A big reason for the Wolves ‘recent resurgence is the play of AHL veteran Mark Mancari, a 26-year-old forward who saw 20 games of NHL action with the Buffalo Sabres last season. During an active six-game point streak, Mancari has posted 10 points (6g, 4a), including a hat trick on Dec. 3, accounting for nearly half of his point total for the entire season (21). Update: The Vancouver Canucks recalled Mancari on Thursday afternoon. He's expected to be in the lineup as the team faces Carolina in Raleigh.
Chicago also boasts AHL star Darren Haydar, who leads the team in scoring (8g, 19a) and ranks tied for 8th overall in AHL points (27 in 23 games). In the Wolves’ Saturday victory over Milwaukee, Haydar became the 22nd player to record 700 AHL points on a first-period assist. He later added a goal to secure a two-point night, but did not dress for the team’s game the following day. Together, Haydar and Mancari are two of just four Wolves players with double-digit point totals.
Other notable veterans on Chicago’s roster include forward Steve Reinprecht, who has played 663 games in the NHL, and defenseman Nolan Baumgartner, who has played 143 dating back to the 1995-96 season. They join young talent such as Jordan Schroeder, who was the 22nd overall pick by the parent Vancouver Canucks in 2009.
The Wolves have split their goaltending evenly this season, with Matt Climie and Eddie Lack each making 13 appearances with roughly equal statistics. Climie, the elder of the two undrafted netminders, left Sunday’s start with a groin injury and did not return. The Wolves recalled goalie Charlie Effinger from CHL Missouri the following day, suggesting Lack will get the start tonight.
On the blue line, Kevin Connauton leads all AHL defensemen with 8 goals, including 5 on the league’s 10th-ranked power play (20 percent).
• A RARE SLUMP: Last week marked the Checkers’ second losing streak of three or more games and first since dropping four in a row from Oct. 11-20, 2010 – a stretch that began with the third game in the team’s history. Previously, the Checkers had only experienced one two-game losing streak this season, dropping games in Houston on Oct. 30 and in Milwaukee on Nov. 4. They had gone on four winning streaks of two or more games, including a team-record five-game winning streak to close the month of November.
• DROUGHT OVER: The Checkers ended a team-record goal drought that lasted 163 minutes and 31 seconds on Sunday when Jared Staal broke San Antonio goalie Jacob Markstrom’s shutout bid with just 32 seconds remaining in regulation. Staal’s goal, the first power-play point of his AHL career, was the Checkers’ first tally since Jerome Samson scored at the 15:57 mark of the first period to open the scoring in the team’s 3-1 loss to Lake Erie on Dec. 5. Previously, the team’s longest goal drought lasted 91:34 from March 4-6, 2011.
• HOME AND AWAY: Charlotte is tied with Albany, Manchester and Rochester for the most points earned at home (19). With a record of 9-3-1 this season, the AHL Checkers have improved to 31-16-5 all-time at Time Warner Cable Arena. However, back-to-back losses on their recent two-game road trip have put the Checkers below the .500 mark on the road with a season record of 6-7-1.
• SHORTIES EVERYWHERE: The Checkers have experienced a rare run of shorthanded goals, at one point scoring two and allowing three during a four-game span from Dec. 3-9. For the season, they now rank tied for second in the league with four shorthanded goals scored while tying for the second-most shorthanded goals allowed with four. Defenseman Mathieu Roy has factored in on three of the Checkers’ shorthanded goals scored (1g, 2a), tying him for the league lead in shorthanded points.
• Dec. 14 – (G) Mike Murphy reassigned to Charlotte by Carolina (NHL)
• Dec. 14 – (G) Justin Peters recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
• Dec. 13 – (F) Justin Shugg recalled to Charlotte from Florida (ECHL)
• Dec. 11 – (F) Drayson Bowman recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
• Dec. 8 – (F) Justin Shugg reassigned to Florida (ECHL) from Charlotte
• Dec. 13 – (LW) Bill Sweatt reassigned to Chicago from Vancouver (NHL)
• Dec. 12- (G) Charlie Effinger recalled to Chicago from Missouri (CHL)