March 03, 2012 8:04 AM
The Checkers return to action for the first time in a week for back-to-back road games against the Lake Erie Monsters beginning tonight.
The match-ups between Charlotte (31-19-6) and Lake Erie (28-25-5) conclude the four-game season series between the two clubs, who split two earlier games in Charlotte on Dec. 4 and 5. The Monsters, Charlotte’s only opponent during this season’s exhibition slate, are one of just two North Division teams the Checkers will face all season.
At the conclusion of the weekend set, the Checkers return to Charlotte to begin a six-game home stand on March 10.
For the first time in three months, the Checkers have their starting goaltending tandem back at their disposal. Both Justin Peters, who the Carolina Hurricanes reassigned on Friday, and Mike Murphy, who recently recovered from an injury suffered on Jan. 24, are scheduled to play their first game for the Checkers in quite some time.
Coach Jeff Daniels said that the two would split the series, though he did not specify which goalie would play which game.
"Murphy hasn't played in a while so we need to get him in a game, and at the same time Peters was in a stretch where he was playing a lot (for Carolina) and we want to keep that going."
With those two unavailable, the Checkers rode the hot play of rookie John Muse, who went 10-3-2 with a 1.81 goals-against average, .941 save percentage and two shutouts in his first-ever taste of AHL action. With Peters coming back down, Muse rejoined the ECHL’s Florida Everblades on Friday.
Though the goaltending is back to full strength, the defense is far from it. In order to dress six healthy blue liners on the trip, the Checkers signed Brandon Gentile to a professional tryout contract on Friday. Gentile joins the Checkers after just completing a previous tryout with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, where he recorded 5 points (1g, 4a) and a plus-9 rating in 15 games.
"Bridgeport had defenseman come back and they were going to release him, but his coach had nothing but good things to say about him," said Daniels, who will be without the services of Justin Krueger, Chris Murray and Rasmus Rissanen. "He's probably more defensive and will keep things simple, which is what we were looking for."
Up front, Chris Durno, who scored the winning goal against his former team in Lake Erie’s visit to Charlotte, is set to play his first game since Dec. 31 after recovering from an upper-body injury. Riley Nash, who has been out with his own upper-body ailment since Feb. 11, will not play.
The Monsters are in the middle of a three-in-three set that began with a 2-1 shootout win in Hamilton on Friday. Ryan Stoa scored the only goal of the shootout, with goalie Cedrick Desjardins making 29 saves as their team ended a four-game road winless streak.
||11th Western Conference
||GOALS / GAME
||GOALS ALLOWED / GAME
||PIM / GAME
Though injuries and recalls have limited his time with the Monsters this season, Desjardins, a sixth-year veteran, would have some of the best numbers in the league if he had played enough minutes to qualify. In 17 games played, he has a 2.10 goals-against average, .933 save percentage and two shutouts. He’s played three of four games since returning to the Lake Erie lineup on Feb. 23, with Gerald Coleman, a professional tryout signing who recently took the Sean Dolan route and signed for the rest of the season, holding the fort until then.
Though not a prolific offensive team – the Monsters rank 29th in the AHL with an average of 2.47 goals per game – that goaltending and a positive work ethic have been enough to remain in playoff contention.
“They’re a hard working team that’s physical, and we’re going to have to play hard,” said Daniels. “They make you earn everything you get.”
The Monsters did add rookie Mike Connolly at the NHL’s trade deadline, who immediately becomes the team’s second-highest active scorer with 30 points in 40 games. Though standout rookie defenseman Tyson Barrie, who also has 30 points, is with the Colorado Avalanche, forward David van der Gulik (20 points in 23 games) recently returned from a long NHL stint.
Lake Erie has won five straight games at home dating back to Jan. 28.
• HOLDING THE LEAD: The Checkers have entered every game of 2012 as Midwest Division leaders. Since claiming the lead with a win in Grand Rapids on Nov. 5, they’ve only relinquished it once for a four-day period in late December, with a win in Rockford on Dec. 30 good enough to get it back. They currently have a three-point lead over the Chicago Wolves.
• PENALTY KILL: The Checkers have allowed just one power play goal over their last 10 games, killing 37 of 38 penalties during that span (97.4 percent). For the season, the Checkers, who are 19-for-19 over their last six contests, rank fourth in the AHL with a 85.6 percent success rate. Discipline has been a factor, as they have faced the fewest shorthanded situations of any team this season (216). Charlotte ranks fifth on the power play (20.7 percent), making it the only AHL team to be in the top five in both special teams categories.
• LATE BLOOMER: After going scoreless in his first 30 AHL games of the season with San Antonio and Charlotte, center A.J. Jenks now has 7 points (4g, 3a) in his last 10 games, including his first two multi-point games and first power-play goals as a professional. Jenks, a fourth-round draft pick who the Carolina Hurricanes acquired from the Florida Panthers organization in January, now has 28 points (12g, 16a) in 103 career AHL games.
• WELCOME BACK SHUGG: After suffering an injury with the Checkers on Dec. 15, rookie forward Justin Shugg recorded 4 points (3g, 1a) and a shootout goal in his first five 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 8 career AHL points, all of which have come in his last 10 games following an eight-game drought to start the season.
• (D) Mathieu Roy has points in each of his last three games (Feb. 19-25; 1g, 2a)
• (LW) Evgenii Dadonov has assists and points in each of his last three games (Feb. 19-25; 4a)
• (D) Joe Sova has assists and points in each of his last two games (Feb. 24-25; 3a)
• (D) Bobby Sanguinetti has assists and points in each of his last two games (Feb. 24-25; 2a)
• (D) Chris Murray – injured during most recent game on Feb. 25 vs. Oklahoma City
• (D) Rasmus Rissanen - missed one game, last played Feb. 24 vs. Oklahoma City
• (D) Justin Krueger - missed three games, last played Feb. 18 at Chicago
• (C) Riley Nash – missed seven games, last played Feb. 10 at Milwaukee
• March 2 – (D) Brandon Gentile signed to professional tryout contract
• March 2 – (G) John Muse reassigned to Florida (ECHL) from Charlotte
• March 2 – (G) Justin Peters reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
• Feb. 27 – (LW) Zach Boychuk recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
• Feb. 26 – (G) Dave Caruso released from professional tryout contract
• Feb. 25 – (G) Mike Murphy reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
• March 1 – (D) Barry Goers signed to PTO
• Feb. 29 – (G) Gerald Coleman signed to standard player contract
• Feb. 27 – (F) Mike Connolly assigned to Lake Erie from Colorado (NHL)
• Feb. 25 – (RW) David van der Gulik reassigned to Lake Erie from Colorado (NHL)
• Feb. 25 – (D) Joe Charlebois released from PTO