The Checkers conclude a month of February spent almost entirely on the road with a back-to-back set at home against the Oklahoma City Barons tonight.
Though the Barons (34-14-5) have held the AHL’s best record for most of this season, an honor they will carry into tonight’s game, the Checkers (30-19-5) have been something of a thorn in their side throughout. Charlotte is 4-1-1 in the season series that concludes Saturday, making them one of just two teams (Milwaukee) to play the Barons multiple times and emerge with a winning record.
Charlotte has taken points in each of its last four meetings with Oklahoma City (3-0-1), with the Barons’ 1-0 shutout victory on Nov. 11 marking the only time they’ve failed to do so this season.
Though the Checkers did not emerge with a victory in their last two games in Chicago, coach Jeff Daniels said that he was pleased with the way his team responded from the previous weekend, in which the team went 1-2-0 and generally did not give its best effort.
“I was disappointed with the whole team two weeks ago, but the way we competed last week is the way we need to compete every game,” he said.
The team will continue to be without a few of its best offensive weapons in Drayson Bowman and Jerome Samson, who are on NHL recall with the Carolina Hurricanes, and Riley Nash, who has not skated with the team since suffering an upper-body injury in Milwaukee on Feb. 10. However, the remaining cast that includes Zach Boychuk, Zac Dalpe, Evgenii Dadonov and Chris Terry should be enough to get it done, while Brett Sutter, typically known more for his defense, leads the team with 5 points (2g, 3a) in five games play against the Barons.
“We just need to do a better job of capitalizing on opportunities and getting those backbreaking goals we’ve struggled to get all season,” said Daniels.
The Checkers do face some uncertainty in goal, with Mike Murphy’s recall to Carolina leaving the team with just one netminder, rookie John Muse, on the roster. Should Murphy stay with the Hurricanes, a possibility due to the day-to-day status of starter Cam Ward, the AHL club would need to bring in another goalie on a professional tryout contract for the fifth consecutive weekend.
Muse, who had played just one AHL game prior to this season, is now 9-3-1 with a 1.79 goals-against average, .941 save percentage and two shutouts with the Checkers this season.
Outside of the goaltending situation, the only potential lineup change for the Checkers would have Chris Durno returning from an upper-body injury that has kept him out since Dec. 31. He practiced with the team all week after being cleared for contact.
Update: The Checkers have signed goalie Dave Caruso to his third professional tryout contract in as many weeks. Durno took part in Friday's morning skate but will not play tonight.
OKLAHOMA CITY STATS
1st Western Conference
GOALS / GAME
GOALS ALLOWED / GAME
PIM / GAME
Though it may not sound like much of a slide, the Barons’ recent run of two wins in their last four games represents the biggest hiccup they’ve experienced in quite some time. Prior to that, they won nine of 10 games, including a seven-game winning streak that ended at the hands of the Checkers on Feb. 3. They do still have an active five-game road winning streak dating back to Jan. 19.
Oklahoma City has won many of its games by being far and away the league’s best defensive team, allowing an average of just 2.13 goals per game. By comparison, the No. 2 ranked Toronto Marlies check in at 2.46. The goalie tandem of Yann Danis and David LeNeveu have benefited from that, as they rank first and second in the league, respectively, with goals-against averages of 1.98 and 2.00.
With Danis currently on NHL duty with the Edmonton Oilers, it’s likely that LeNeveu will get the start tonight. Each goaltender has played three games against Charlotte this season, with Danis owning the better statistics.
Defenseman Bryan Rodney, the Checkers captain last season, returns to Charlotte as a member of the Barons following last week’s trade from the Anaheim Ducks organization. Rodney has 2 points (1g, 1a) in his first four games with the Barons, giving him 22 (6g, 16a) in 45 total games this season.
• MUSE SHUTS THE DOOR: With the second shutout of his AHL career in the Checkers’ 1-0 shootout loss in Chicago Saturday, John Muse tied Mike Murphy for the team’s all-time mark. Muse achieved the feat in just 12 games, with the next night’s loss bringing his record this season to 9-3-1 with a 1.79 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.
Though he was still 248 minutes away from officially qualifying among league leaders through games of Feb. 23, he would rank first in goals-against average and save percentage. Muse and Murphy are the only Checkers goalies to record shutouts in the team’s two-year history.
• WELCOME BACK SHUGG: After suffering an injury with the Checkers on Dec. 15, rookie forward Justin Shugg recorded 3 points (2g, 1a) in his first three games back with the team following a recall from the ECHL’s Florida Everblades. Shugg, a 20-year-old, fourth-round draft pick by the Hurricanes in 2010, now has 7 career AHL points, all of which have come in his last eight games following an eight-game drought to start the season.
• SPECIAL TEAMS: The Checkers have allowed just two power play goals over their last 10 games, killing 38 out of 40 penalties during that span (95 percent). For the season, the Checkers, who are 13-for-13 over their last four contests, rank 4th in the AHL with a 85.2 percent success rate. However, they are just 1-for-21 on the power play over their last seven contests.
• SHOOTOUTS: Saturday’s loss caused the Checkers to fall to 5-3 in shootouts this season, as their eight appearances rank tied for fifth-most in the AHL. They rank sixth in terms of scoring (18-for-47; .383 shooting percentage) and 17th in terms of goaltending (15-for-47; .319 opponent shooting percentage). The Checkers have five players who have scored on more than half of their attempts this season, including Chris Terry (5-for-8), A.J. Jenks (3-for-4), Drayson Bowman (3-for-5), Justin Krueger (2-for-3) and Nicolas Blanchard (1-for-1).
• John Muse has started each of the Checkers’ last four games (Feb. 12-19; 1-2-1)
• (D) Justin Krueger - missed one game, last played Feb. 18 at Chicago
• (C) Riley Nash – missed five games, last played Feb. 10 at Milwaukee
• (D) Chris Murray – missed 13 games, last played Jan. 17 vs. Grand Rapids
• (C) Chris Durno – missed 21 games, last played Dec. 31 at Chicago
• Feb. 22 – (G) Mike Murphy recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
• Feb. 20 – (G) Dave Caruso released from professional tryout contract
• Feb. 21 – (C) Ryan Martindale recalled to Oklahoma City from Stockton (ECHL)
• Feb. 20 – (G) Olivier Roy recalled to Oklahoma City from Stockton (ECHL)
• Feb. 20 – (G) Yann Danis recalled to Edmonton (NHL) from Oklahoma City