If only for a split second, Zac Dalpe had the storybook ending to a difficult scoring stretch.
The talented sophomore forward, without a goal in the month of December, rifled a shot from the right circle during overtime of the Checkers’ Sunday night match-up against Oklahoma City, beating goalie David LeNeveu over the left shoulder. He had broken his drought in the most dramatic way possible, sealing a come-from behind victory against the league’s best team on home ice.
The celebration would be short lived. After a lengthy discussion amongst officials both on-ice and off, it was determined, despite ongoing protests from Dalpe and coach Jeff Daniels, that the shot had hit the post, or perhaps all three of them. Rather than give him a break, it seemed as though the Hockey Gods were now finding new and creative ways to torment Zac Dalpe.
With available video replays inconclusive at best, Dalpe may never have the answer to whether or not his shot went in. Still, that won’t prevent him from watching it over and over again, though not in the technical sense.
“I dreamt about it,” he said, one morning later. “I saw it 100 times in my sleep.”
Entering the team’s last two games, Dalpe, who has now gone eight games without a goal dating back to his tally against Texas on Nov. 30, was far from alone in his offensive frustrations. As a whole, the Checkers had scored a total of three goals during a season-long four-game losing streak, with every one of the team’s top forwards nursing a drought or a slump of some kind.
Not coincidentally, most of those were broken as the team rebounded to win their next two. Dalpe himself chipped in a pair of assists during Friday’s 4-2 victory over Chicago, breaking a six-game run in which he recorded no points at all.
However, for a player who scored 23 goals in a 61-game rookie season that saw him earn AHL All-Rookie recognition, doing the honors himself will be a different feeling altogether.
“When I do get one, I think you’re going to see that monkey come off my back,” he said. “That OT winner would have been nice.”
Daniels said that he was pleased with the play of Dalpe, who was no sure bet to be in Charlotte at all this season after making the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes out of training camp, but added that the player could still find another level to his game. Though Dalpe doesn't have an overtime goal to put an exclamation point on that resurgence, Daniels saw signs of that happening on Sunday.
“That was his best game since he’s been down here with the way he was skating and snapping the puck,” said Daniels of Dalpe, who has 7 points (3g, 4a) in 15 AHL games this season dating back to Nov. 4. “I was talking to him after practice (on Monday) about how that game was something he can build off of. He had that jump that was missing earlier.”
Even if his name hasn’t been filling the score sheet the way he would like, Dalpe has been far from anonymous. He’s been knocking on the door with regularity, recording 25 shots in his last five games, by far the most of any Checkers player. That includes a game-high six in Sunday’s game, which also saw him denied in the shootout.
As much as he can only shake his head as his recent luck, Dalpe himself is doing his best not to become discouraged.
“The biggest positive you can draw from it is that it’s going to make you more mature down the road,” he said. “If you look at the NHL there are lots of guys that aren’t scoring like they usually do, and I think in five years if I get in another rut it will be something I can say I’ve been through before and got out of.”
Potentially working in Dalpe’s favor is that the same kind of frustration is no longer being felt by some of his teammates who were more fortunate over the weekend, with the pressure to end the team’s slide now relieved. Daniels himself noted “more life” at the team’s practices now that some confidence had been restored to different parts of his lineup.
“If the chances weren’t there and we weren’t winning, then I’d be worried,” said Dalpe. “I can’t be upset with my game right now.”
Daniels echoed that sentiment.
“I’m not concerned,” he said. “He’s such a great kid that really wants to be a player.”