Charlotte (21-13-4) took the AHL’s best team all the way to the 12th round of the shootout on Wednesday, where Garrett Mitchell finally scored the winning goal to give Hershey (22-8-7) two points. The game marked the first clubs’ first meeting since the first round of last season’s playoffs when the Checkers prevailed in six games.
Tonight’s game, the second of a four-game home stand that will continue against Grand Rapids on Sunday and Tuesday, will mark the Bears’ final appearance in Charlotte this season. The Checkers travel to Hershey to finish the season series on March 24-25.
The Checkers were missing eight players due to injury, illness and NHL recalls on Wednesday, prompting the team to dress just 19 players for the game. Even with Matt Beca’s recall from the ECHL’s Florida Everblades earlier in the day, the team used just 11 forwards as Jared Staal, listed as questionable earlier in the day, was unable to take part.
If the team felt tired our out of sync as a result, particularly as the game was pushed to its farthest limits imaginable, it didn’t show during what players and coaches agreed was an excellent effort.
“For the most part I was able to keep three lines together and then just take turns rotating one guy in and out,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “Guys might be tired, so we’ll need to rest up for (Thursday).”
“I don’t think we showed fatigue at all, and if you play long enough, you’ll find that you can play with everybody,” said Zac Dalpe.
Though Staal and Riley Nash each have a chance to return tonight, the team will certainly be without yet another player as defenseman Derek Joslin, a veteran who has been on a conditioning stint with the Checkers, will return to the NHL a few games early due to injuries on the Carolina Hurricanes’ blue line. Joslin was eligible to play three more games before the end of his two-week stint.
While the Checkers could again dress 11 forwards if Staal or Nash can’t make it back, it’s likely that they’ll make another ECHL recall to avoid having to use just five defensemen. Chris Murray, who was effective during a 10-game AHL stint in late November and early December, would probably be at the top of the list.
Update: The Hurricanes have officially recalled Joslin, prompting the Checkers to recall Murray. Staal took part in Thursday's optional skate, while Mike Murphy will make his fourth consecutive start in goal.
1st Eastern Conference
GOALS / GAME
GOALS ALLOWED / GAME
PIM / GAME
Though it took a while for them to get going, the Bears were every bit as advertised on Wednesday.
Having entered the game with an array of nearly impossible offensive statistics, it was surprising when the Checkers held them to a season-low two shots in a dominant first period. Of course, the Checkers had not yet taken a penalty, which would prove to be the difference.
The Bears scored on their first two man-advantage opportunities in the second period, increasing their success rate to an astounding 31.5 percent, more than nine percentage points greater than the second-place Syracuse Crunch (22.1). AHL scoring leader Keith Aucoin also continued his strong play, extending his point streak to 12 games (3g, 19a), tying teammate Chris Bourque for the longest posted by any player in the league this season.
Despite a key penalty kill that began with 2:03 seconds left in the game, the Checkers fell from sixth to 11th in the league in that category, now standing at 83.3 percent. According to the Charlotte’s Zach Boychuk, who scored both of his team’s goals on Wednesday, good fortune played a factor for the Bears.
“I felt like they got a couple of lucky bounces on those power-play goals, so we don't really have to change anything,” he said. “Just stick to our game and come back at them tomorrow."
Though Dany Sabourin made 37 saves on Wednesday, the Bears could turn to Braden Holtby tonight. The two have split time regularly throughout the season.
• SHOOTOUT MARATHON: The Checkers’ 12-round shootout against Hershey on Wednesday was the longest in team history, eclipsing two seven-round events, one of which came against Peoria earlier this season. Charlotte is now 9-9 in shootouts over the course of its two year history, including a 4-2 mark this season.
• BOYCHUK STRIKES TWICE: Checkers forward Zach Boychuk has nearly as many multi-goal games at the AHL level this season (three) as he does single-goal games (five). Now in his third full professional season, Boychuk has scored multiple goals in six games, including his only professional hat trick against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Jan. 23, 2011.
• BECA CHIPS IN: Checkers forward Matt Beca, playing his second-ever game with the team on Wednesday, recorded the primary assist on Zach Boychuk’s tying goal in the third period. The helper came nearly two years after his only previous point, a goal in Springfield’s 7-5 loss to Hartford on April 10, 2010. In 31 games with the ECHL Florida Everblades this season, Beca has 28 points (10g, 18a).
• FIRST GOALS: The Checkers have scored first in just 17 of their 38 games this season, giving them the fourth-lowest percentage (.447) of any team currently in playoff position (Albany, Houston, Milwaukee). The Checkers are 12-3-2 when they score the game’s first goal, and 9-10-2 when they do not. Tonight’s opponent, Hershey, has scored first a league-high 27 times. Charlotte struck first in the teams’ first meeting on Wednesday.
• HOME AND AWAY: The Checkers’ 27 points earned at home this season are the most in the AHL. With a record of 12-5-3 this season, the AHL Checkers have improved to 34-18-7 all-time at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Checkers recently broke the .500 mark on the road for the first time since Dec. 9 and now have a season record of 9-8-1.
• Zac Dalpe has points in each of his last three games (Jan. 7-11; 3g, 1a).
• Mike Murphy has started three consecutive games in goal (Jan. 7-11; 1-1-1)
• Jan. 11 – (RW) Matt Beca recalled to Charlotte from Florida (ECHL)
• Jan. 10 - (RW) Jerome Samson recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
• Jan. 7 - (LW) Drayson Bowman reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
• Jan. 6 - (F) Sean Dolan signed to a PTO
• Jan. 5 - (C) Brett Sutter recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
• Jan. 10 - (D) Tomas Kundratek recalled to Washington (NHL) from Hershey
• Jan. 9 - (D) Phil Oreskovic recalled to Hershey from South Carolina (ECHL)