Having just ended their longest losing streak of the season, the Checkers will aim to start a new kind of streak tonight against the first-place Oklahoma City Barons.
Charlotte (16-11-2) won for the first time in five games against Chicago on Friday, having previously endured a four-game losing streak that tied a team record. While they’re hoping that comeback victory is a sign of more positive things to come, Oklahoma City, their opponent for the next two games, has been rolling of late with a record of 8-2-0 in its last 10 games, improving its overall record to 20-7-1.
The two-game set with the Barons that continues Tuesday will be the Checkers' final contests heading into a nine-day holiday break in the schedule.
Though the Checkers finally broke through with a much-needed victory on Friday, one may not have guessed they were headed that direction after a tough first period.
Having entered the game with promise of building on a solid yet unsuccessful effort in the previous night’s match-up with Chicago, the Checkers instead slumped to a 2-0 first-period deficit that saw it allow 14 shots while taking a season-low two themselves. However, they came out much better in the second period, scoring four unanswered goals to rally around rookie goaltender John Muse.
“We showed our character and how much we cared,” said Daniels.
The four-goal rally topped the team’s offensive output over its entire losing streak, as it had scored just three goals in its last four games. While several players busted out of scoring slumps, Zach Boychuk most notably ended an eight-game goal drought with the eventual game-winning goal in the third period after picking up an assist on Jon Matsumoto’s equalizer. Zac Dalpe, pointless in his last six games, also chipped in with 2 assists.
Coach Jeff Daniels will go back to Mike Murphy in goal after pulling him early in Friday's win over Chicago. After Murphy allowed two goals on 10 shots during the team's lackadaisical first period, Muse stopping all 24 shots he faced in his first AHL appearance of the season.
The rest of the lienup will also be the same, with forward Justin Shugg and center Cedric McNicoll out due to injury. Matthew Pistilli, who re-entered the lineup on Friday after sitting out the previous game as a healthy scratch, scored the team’s first goal to start the rally against Chicago.
Defenseman Chris Murray, who has been a healthy scratch for the team's last three games, should again be available tonight following a one-day reassignment to ECHL Florida, where he took part in the team's 4-3 victory in Greenville.
OKLAHOMA CITY STATS
1st Western Conference
GOALS / GAME
GOALS ALLOWED / GAME
PIM / GAME
The Barons, top affiliate of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, enter their first-ever visit to Charlotte four points clear of any other AHL squad. However, despite their dominance, the Checkers, who are responsible for two of their seven regulation losses, are one of the few teams to be able to claim any kind of success against them. Charlotte, which holds a 2-1-0 record in the season series, is one of just two teams (Milwaukee – 1-0-0) that can claim a positive head-to-head record.
Daniels didn't read much into the head-to-head record, noting that all three games had been back-and-forth, low-scoring affairs.
"It will be a good measuring stick for us to see where we're at," he said.
The Barons enter the game as the AHL’s best defensive team with an average of just 2.21 goals allowed per game. Statistically, they boast the league’s best goaltending tandem with veterans David LeNeveu (third in the AHL with a 2.01 goals-against average) and Yann Danis (seventh in the AHL with a 2.20 goalst-against average) between the pipes.
The two have split the season relatively evenly, with Danis making 18 appearances to LeNeveu’s 12. The Checkers have faced Danis in all three appearances, with the 30-year-old veteran of 49 NHL games earning a 30-save shutout on Nov. 11. Danis has appeared in the Baron’s three most recent games, including a Dec. 13 relief appearance against Texas in which he stopped all 19 shots after LeNeveu allowed three goals on eight attempts.
Up front, the Barons are led by Philippe Cornet, whose 15 goals tie for third in the league. Though the Barons average the fewest amount of shots taken per game (26.4), Cornet tends to make his count as he leads the AHL with a 34.9 shooting percentage. His four game-winning goals are tied with teammate Ryan Keller, the Barons’ top scorer with 21 points, for the most in the league.
The Barons will have a little extra firepower in their lineup, with Magnus Paajarvi, the 10th overall pick of the Oilers in 2009 who has already played 105 NHL games, on the first AHL assignment of his career. Defenseman Colten Teubert, himself a former first-round pick who has played 10 NHL games this season, is also back with the Barons. CHECKERS NOTES
• MUSE’S PERFECT START: Rookie John Muse stopped all 24 shots he faced in relief of Mike Murphy in his fist AHL appearance of the season, making him one of three AHL goaltenders (Adirondack’s Johan Backlund and Portland’s Marc Cheverie) with perfect statistics this season. Though all three goaltenders have made just one appearance apiece, both Backlund (15 saves) and Cheverie (17 saves) have fewer saves than Muse. In two career AHL appearances, Muse has a 1.11 goals-against average and .966 save percentage.
• POWER SURGE: The Checkers scored three power-play goals against Chicago on Friday, tying a season high set at Norfolk on Nov. 23. Prior to Friday’s game, which saw Matthew Pistilli, Jon Matsumoto and Jerome Samson score on the man advantage, the Checkers had recorded the same amount of power-play goals in their previous seven contests. They now have a power-play goal in each of their last three games.
• HOME AND AWAY: The Checkers 21 points earned at home this season are the most of any team in the AHL. With a record of 10-4-1 this season, the AHL Checkers have improved to 32-17-5 all-time at Time Warner Cable Arena. However, the Checkers are below the .500 mark on the road with a season record of 6-7-1.
• DIVISIONAL DOMINANCE: Charlotte has earned 15 out of a possible 20 points (7-2-1) against Midwest Division opponents this season, tying Oklahoma City for the best record of any AHL team against its own division. Rounding out the four divisions they’ve faced this season, the Checkers have winning records against the East (2-1-1) and North (2-1-0), but have posted a 5-7-0 mark against the West. Charlotte currently holds a one-point lead over Milwaukee in the Midwest.
• Dec. 18 – (D) Chris Murray recalled to Charlotte from Florida (ECHL)
• Dec. 17 – (D) Chris Murray reassigned to Florida (ECHL) from Charlotte
• 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. 17 – (D) Dan Ringwald released from PTO
• Dec. 17 – (D) Kiril Tulupov signed to SPC
• Dec. 17 – (G) Olivier Roy reassigned to Stockton (ECHL) from Oklahoma City
• Dec. 16 – (LW) Magnus Paajarvi reassigned to Oklahoma City from Edmonton (NHL)
• Dec. 15 - (RW) Cameron Abney reassigned to Stockton (ECHL) from Oklahoma City
• Dec. 15 – (D) Colten Teubert reassigned to Oklahoma City from Edmonton (NHL)
• Dec. 15 – (C) Ryan Martindalte reassigned to Stockton (ECHL) from Oklahoma City