Charlotte (31-20-8) and Chicago (33-22-5) conclude their eight-game season series this afternoon, with the Wolves now holding a one-point lead for the Midwest’s top spot by way of a 3-1 victory in Charlotte on Saturday. That marked the fourth consecutive head-to-head win by Chicago and also the Checkers’ fourth consecutive game without a victory. Charlotte is 1-2-4 in its last seven games.
Though divisional bragging rights are on the line first and foremost, the Checkers will also be looking to reclaim some ground in the Western Conference playoff race. Though they only fell from third to fourth in the standings, they are just two points ahead of the ninth-place Houston Aeros.
Goal scoring has been the Checkers' biggest issue during their recent slide, as they’ve mustered just six over their last four games. That includes back-to-back, one-goal performances, with Zac Dalpe the only Charlotte skater to light the lamp on Saturday.
Though players out of the lineup account for at least part of the problem – Drayson Bowman and Jerome Samson are in the NHL while Riley Nash is injured – the team still feels like it’s getting enough opportunities to get the job done.
“We're getting these chances to score goals and we're not scoring them,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “Right now that's the difference in our game these last few weeks."
“It’s frustrating,” said center Brett Sutter. “I feel like the effort has been there.”
Besides hitting two posts in the first period of Saturday’s game, Charlotte got its best chances on a third-period power play that would have tied the game. However, a few of those just missed and a few of them were stopped by goalie Eddie Lack, who is 4-1-0 with a 1.59 goals-against average and .951 save percentage against the Checkers this season. Charlotte is without a man-advantage goal in its last four games, going 0-for-16 during that span.
With Justin Peters making 24 saves in his second consecutive start on Saturday, the Checkers will likely turn to Mike Murphy in today’s rematch. The home team is unlikely to get any reinforcements to its lineup, with defensemen Justin Krueger, Chris Murray and Rasmus Rissanen set to join Nash on the sidelines.
3rd Western Conference
GOALS / GAME
GOALS ALLOWED / GAME
PIM / GAME
Charlotte’s greatest nemesis on Chicago’s roster has been Lack, who shut them out as recently as Feb. 18. However, with the 6-foot-4 netminder starting five of his team’s last six games, the visitors may elect to go with Matt Climie on Sunday. Climie is 1-1-0 with a 3.01 goals-against average and .891 save percentage against Charlotte.
Though he had been relatively quiet in the season series up until that point, veteran Darren Haydar broke out to the tune of two power-play goals on Saturday. Haydar, a 32-year-old who recently became just the 22nd player to record 700 AHL points, now has four points (3g, 1a) against the Checkers.
Haydar’s goals came against what appeared to be something of a mismatch on paper, with Chicago’s 30th-ranked power play going up against a Charlotte penalty kill that was a perfect 26-for-26 over its last eight games. The 2-for-4 performance was enough to get Chicago up to 29th at 14.2 percent, while Charlotte retains the No. 2 spot in terms of penalty killing (85.5 percent).
Chicago has played one more game than Charlotte this season, meaning the Checkers would hold the initial tiebreak should the teams finish Sunday level on points via an overtime or shootout win by the home team.
• WINLESS STREAK: Though they’ve earned points in four of their last five games by way of a string of overtime and shootout losses, the Checkers currently find themselves in a four-game winless streak that ties the longest in the team’s two-year history. The team previously suffered four consecutive regulation losses on two separate occasions, most recently from Dec. 5-15 of this season. The current streak ties the Albany Devils for the longest active slide in the AHL.
• GOAL DROUGHT: The Checkers’ current run of six goals scored in their last four games is the fewest over any four-game stretch since they scored just three times between Dec. 5-15. Prior to the start of their current slide, the Checkers scored six times in a single game against Oklahoma City on Feb. 24. Despite ranking eighth in the AHL in shots per game (31.8), the Checkers are tied for 19th in terms of goals per outing (2.78).
• LEAD LOST: Today marks the first day of 2012 that the Checkers did not begin as Midwest Division leaders. Since claiming the lead with a win in Grand Rapids on Nov. 5, they relinquished it just one other time during a four-day period in late December, with a win in Rockford on Dec. 30 good enough to get it back.
• PENALTY KILL: Charlotte allowed two power-play goals on Saturday, ending a perfect eight-game streak that saw them kill 26 consecutive penalties. Even after Chicago’s 2-for-4 performance, the Checkers have killed 46 of their last 49 penalties (93.9 percent) dating back to Feb. 3 – a span of 13 games. For the season, Charlotte ranks second in the AHL with a success rate of 85.5 percent.
• (G) Justin Peters has started each of the team’s last two games (March 4-10; 0-1-1)
• (D) Chris Murray – missed three games, last played Feb. 25 vs. Oklahoma City
• (D) Rasmus Rissanen - missed four games, last played Feb. 24 vs. Oklahoma City
• (D) Justin Krueger - missed six games, last played Feb. 18 at Chicago
• (C) Riley Nash – missed 10 games, last played Feb. 10 at Milwaukee
• March 5 – (LW) Darren Archibald reassigned to Kalamazoo (ECHL) from Chicago
• March 5 – (D) J.P. Testwuide reassigned to Abbotsford from Chicago
• March 5 – (D) Jordan Henry reassigned to Chicago from Abbotsford