For a team as banged up as the Checkers, a break came at a good time.
Since Thursday’s loss to Hershey that saw them begin the game with seven players out of the lineup and lose two more during the contest, the Checkers had two days until needing to suit up for Sunday’s game against Grand Rapids. That allowed them a full day away from the rink on Friday – a rarity this season for days in which the team isn’t traveling – before returning to practice on Saturday.
Had there been a third game in as many days on Friday, a grueling chunk of schedule that they’ll face eight times when the season is said and done, they may have needed to charter an entire plane to carry players up from the ECHL’s Florida Everblades.
“Maybe,” said coach Jeff Daniels with a laugh when confronted with that same scenario. “We’re day-to-day on a lot of things right now. We’ve been playing a lot, so it was good to take advantage of these few days off.”
As it stands, the Checkers probably won’t be any better off than they were heading into Thursday’s game, but they won’t be any worse, either. Drayson Bowman and Nicolas Blanchard, who each went to the locker room with injuries in the team’s last game and did not return, practiced with the team as usual on Saturday.
“That wasn’t a concern for us after we looked at things after the game,” said Daniels. “We expected they would be back at practice today, and they were.”
Forwards Riley Nash and Justin Shugg each joined the team for the practice at Extreme Ice Center, though each was limited in some capacity. Nash, sidelined since Jan. 7, wore a non-contact jersey, while Shugg only joined the session as players were beginning to filter out, continuing a recent trend of skating on his own as he rehabs from an ailment that has kept him out since Dec. 16.
Daniels said that he still could not put a timetable on either of those players, with Chris Durno and Mathieu Roy still not able to take the ice at all. That would make it seem that the only hope of reinforcements would be the return of Jerome Samson from NHL recall, which could happen as soon as Sunday if the Carolina Hurricanes’ Jeff Skinner is able to make his long-awaited return from a concussion for that day’s game in Washington.
“Every team goes through it, and we’re going through it now,” said Daniels.
If there’s a silver lining to the team’s most adverse stretch of the season to date, it’s that it may have helped Daniels convey his message to the team about raising its intensity. The coach said that he was pleased with the effort level in his team’s two most recent games, a shootout loss and a regulation loss to Hershey, one that would have proved more fruitful against any other team that didn’t also happen to be the league’s best.
Despite the holes in the lineup, the Checkers came much closer to winning those games than they did a handful of contests against less-accomplished opponents during a December losing streak that strangely coincided with the team’s strongest lineup of the campaign.
“That happens sometimes,” said Daniels. “When you’ve got your full roster, guys sometimes look to someone else to do the work.”
Sunday’s game will feature the return of goalie John Muse, who the Checkers reassigned to Florida on Friday so that he could play that night’s game and another on Saturday during the break in the AHL schedule. That being said, Mike Murphy is expected to start his fifth consecutive game.
Muse, who has a 0.58 goals-against average and .985 save percentage in two appearances with the Checkers this season, made 28 saves in Florida’s 4-2 win over Chicago on Friday.