Battling through their toughest stretch of the season in terms of injuries and recalls to the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, the Checkers (21-14-4) began their home stand by dropping two games against the league-leading Hershey Bears, one of which came by way of shootout. That’s allowed the Chicago Wolves, who beat Charlotte in a head-to-head match-up last week, to tie them for first in the Midwest Division.
With a win this afternoon against Grand Rapids (15-14-7), the Checkers could reclaim the division lead they’ve held for most of this season. The meeting will be the first between the two teams since Nov. 5, when the Checkers skated away with a 2-1 victory.
Despite not having won since their dramatic comeback against division rival Milwaukee on Jan. 7, the Checkers enter tonight’s game pleased with their effort in their last two contests against Hershey. Both games were extremely close, beginning with the marathon 12-round shootout setback on Wednesday and continuing with a one-goal loss on Thursday, which wasn’t necessarily a terrible result given the quality of the opponent and the players missing from Charlotte’s lineup.
They’ll need more of the same intensity tonight, as their roster situation (four players out due to injury, three more playing in the NHL) will likely not change from Thursday’s game. It would seem that the only players with a slight chance of returning are Riley Nash, who has been practicing with the team in a non-contact jersey, and Jerome Samson, who could be reassigned to Charlotte if Jeff Skinner is able to play in today’s game at Washington.
“Every team goes through it, and we’re going through it now,” said Daniels of his team’s depleted lineup.
The situation could have been worse had Drayson Bowman and Nicolas Blanchard joined the list of walking wounded, which seemed a possibility after each left Thursday’s game with injuries and did not return, but they were able to return to practice Saturday and will be in the lineup today. Chris Durno, Mathieu Roy and Justin Shugg round out the injured list, with Justin Peters and Brett Sutter completing the list of Checkers still in the NHL.
One player who has stepped up to shoulder the offensive load is Zach Boychuk, who leads the team with 3 goals in his last two games. Chris Terry also chipped in with his first multi-point game since Dec. 4 on Thursday.
Mike Murphy is expected to make his fifth consecutive start in goal, while rookie John Muse rejoins the team following a brief two-game conditioning stint with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades in which he made 28 saves in each of back-to-back victories, the second of which came in a 15-round shootout.
11th Western Conference
GOALS / GAME
GOALS ALLOWED / GAME
PIM / GAME
A home loss to Texas on Friday is the only thing keeping the Griffins from bringing a significant point streak into tonight’s contest, as that defeat ended a seven-game run (3-0-4). The streak may not have been as dominant as one might think, as five of those games went to overtime, with Grand Rapids winning just one.
The Griffins’ last meeting with Charlotte was an eventful one, as it earned Checkers forward Chris Terry a two-game suspension for charging goalie Joey MacDonald. MacDonald would miss the team’s next 11 games due to injuries sustained from the incident, but has returned to appear in 10 of its last 14. For the season, MacDonald, who got the night off on Friday and is thus likely to start today, is 8-8-4 with a 2.78 goals-against average and .906 save percentage.
Though the two key figures involved in that incident will be back in the lineup, the first and third stars from the team’s first meeting in Grand Rapids, defenseman Justin Faulk and goalie Justin Peters, likely won’t be seeing the AHL anytime soon. Faulk scored the game-winning goal on the power play in the second period, while Peters made 26 saves.
Contrary to the Checkers, the Griffins should be near full strength today, having been boosted by the return of two of their top scorers from the NHL. Gustav Nyquist, the team’s leading scorer who also ranks third in AHL rookie scoring with 34 points (10g, 24a) in 32 games, is back in the lineup, as is Chris Conner, who is the team’s top points-per-game player with 27 (9g, 18a) in 22 games. In two contests since coming back from the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, Nyquist has 3 points (1g, 2a), while Conner has 4 (2g, 2a).
Chris Minard, a forward with 40 games of NHL experience, is expected to make his season debut today after missing the first half with a concussion.
The Griffins are one of the league’s more prolific offensive teams, ranking tied for seventh in goals per game (3.06) and first in shots (34.2). However, they allow more goals on average (3.22) than all but three other teams.
“They’ve got a lot of skill,” said Daniels. “Their D are very active jumping into the rush, so protecting the puck and making smart decisions is going to be key.”
• BOYCHUK GETTING GOALS: During the Checkers’ two-game set against Hershey last week, Checkers forward Zach Boychuk became the third player on the team to hit the double-digit mark in goals (12). Boychuk has tallied three times in his last two games, including his third multi-goal effort of the season on Wednesday. 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. Since ending an eight-game goal drought on Dec. 16, Boychuk has 6 goals in his last 11 contests.
• A BETTER MONTH: Having experienced a season-high, six-game pointless streak to begin December, Checkers forward Zac Dalpe has points in four of five games during the month of January, including an active four-game point streak (3g, 2a) that marks a new season high.
• HOME AND AWAY: The Checkers’ 27 points earned at home this season are tied with Adirondack for second in the league behind Milwaukee’s 28. With a record of 12-6-3 this season, the AHL Checkers have improved to 34-19-7 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 four games (Jan. 7-13; 3g, 2a).
• Mike Murphy has started four consecutive games in goal (Jan. 7-13; 1-2-1).
• Zach Boychuk has goals and points in each of his last two games (Jan. 12-12; 3g).
• Jan. 15 – (G) John Muse recalled to Charlotte from Florida (ECHL)
• Jan. 12 – (D) Chris Murray recalled to Charlotte from Florida (ECHL)
• Jan. 12 – (D) Derek Joslin recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
• Jan. 11 – (RW) Matt Beca recalled to Charlotte from Florida (ECHL)
• Jan. 10 - (RW) Jerome Samson recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
• Jan. 14 – (LW) Chris Minard reassigned to Grand Rapids from Detroit (NHL)
• Jan. 11 – (RW) Jan Mursak recalled to Detroit (NHL) from Grand Rapids
• Jan. 9 – (C) Adam Estoclet reassigned to Toledo (ECHL) from Grand Rapids
• Jan. 9 – (RW) Chris Conner reassigned to Grand Rapids from Detroit (NHL)
• Jan. 8 – (LW) Gustav Nyquist reassigned to Grand Rapids from Detroit (NHL)