Charlotte (32-20-8) is coming off a big 4-0 win over Chicago on Sunday that saw them restore their Midwest Division lead. Though that lead has since been lost due to a midweek win by Peoria that came while the Checkers were idle, they have a chance to get it back against the East’s No.1 team tonight. Norfolk (43-18-3) has won 16 consecutive games, one shy of tying the AHL record.
The two-game set with Norfolk that continues with Sunday’s rematch will conclude the eight-game season series, with Charlotte currently holding a one-point lead by way of its 3-2-1 record. A regulation win tonight would clinch a victory for the Checkers in the GEICO Cup Challenge, which rewards the team with the most points in the head-to-head match-up.
Though Sunday’s win gave them some momentum to carry through the week, the Checkers do face some questions on defense. With Justin Krueger out with an upper-body injury and Bobby Sanguinetti with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, Charlotte would need Rasmus Rissanen to play for the first time since Feb. 24 in order to dress six on the blue line.
Rissanen was a full participant in this week’s practices, but coach Jeff Daniels said that he nonetheless had a backup plan in place in case the Finnish rookie isn’t able to play. The team is already using two players outside of its Clear Day roster in rookie Joe Sova and professional tryout signing Brandon Gentile.
“It’s been a blow to us,” said Daniels of absences on defense. “Fortunately the guys that have been out there have been doing a good job, like Gentile coming in on a tryout and Sova getting more minutes.”
Though the Checkers will be without Justin Soryal, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Sunday, center Riley Nash is set to make his return on line with Zach Boychuk and A.J. Jenks. Nash, who has not played since Feb. 10, has nine points (4g, 5a) in his last 11 games at the AHL level. He’s expected to get power-play time tonight.
As per usual, Charlotte will likely hand one start apiece to Mike Murphy and Justin Peters. Murphy had a 22-save shutout on Sunday in just his second game since suffering an injury on Jan. 24, with Peters taking the loss against Chicago one night earlier. Update: Murphy will start tonight.
1st Eastern Conference
GOALS / GAME
GOALS ALLOWED / GAME
PIM / GAME
With a win tonight, the Admirals’ streak would tie the Philadelphia Phantoms’ 2004 record for the longest single-season run in league history. Their current 16-game streak has only been achieved by two other teams, including the 1983-84 Baltimore Skipjacks.
Though they’ve ranked as one of the league’s best offenses all season, they’ve taken a firm hold on the No. 1 spot by averaging an even four goals per game during their streak. Rookie Tyler Johnson has led the way of late, recording 18 points (7g, 11a) during an eight-game point streak that marks the longest active run in the AHL. That has seen Johnson climb into a ninth-place tie in overall league scoring, though he still trails teammates Cory Conacher (third with 68 points in 63 games) and Trevor Smith (sixth with 60 in 57).
A difference for the Admirals has been defensive play, as they’ve allowed just 27 goals during their streak – an average of just 1.69 per game. Both of the team’s goalies, Dustin Tokarski and Jaroslav Janus, have eight-game winning streaks, though Tokarski is currently on NHL recall with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Janus, who has started the last four, is 2-2-0 with a 3.27 goals-against average and .894 save percentage against the Checkers this season.
The Admirals have played more recently than the Checkers, having beaten Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 4-1 on Wednesday to extend their East Division lead to 10 points. In terms of overall league standings, they have seven more points than the West’s best team, Oklahoma City.
The most recent meeting between Charlotte and Norfolk was on Feb. 12, which marked win No. 3 of the Admirals streak. Their last loss came at Springfield on Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 5).
SHUTOUT KING: Mike Murphy made 22 saves on Sunday for his third shutout as a Checker – the most of any goalie in the team’s two-year history. Murphy, who was playing just his second game since suffering a lower-body injury on Jan. 24, broke a tie with John Muse to take sole possession of the record. Murphy now has five career AHL shutouts, having posted two in each of his first two seasons.
DALPE FIRES AWAY: Zac Dalpe’s 10 shots on goal during Sunday’s win over Chicago were the most by any Checkers player this season and the third-most in the team’s two year history. Dalpe, who has goals in each of the team’s last two games, became just the second player to hit double-digit totals in shots, with Jerome Samson taking 11 and 12 shots in two separate occasions last season. Despite playing in just 40 games this season, Dalpe ranks third on the team with 137 shots on goal.
SHOT DOMINANCE: Charlotte took 24 more shots than Chicago on Sunday, marking the largest differential, positive or negative, the Checkers have seen this season. The Checkers’ 46 shots on goal were the third-most they’ve taken this season (high of 50 vs. Rockford on Nov. 18), while the 22 shots allowed were the second-lowest (low of 21 at Lake Erie on March 3). The Checkers have held opponents to fewer than 30 shots in each of their last four games, tying one other instance for their longest such streak of the season.
• (C) Zac Dalpe has points in each of his last two games (March 10-11; 2g, 1a)
• (C) Brett Sutter has points in each of his last two games (March 10-11; 1g, 1a)
• (LW) Justin Soryal – injured during most recent game on March 11 vs. Chicago (out for season)
• (D) Rasmus Rissanen - missed five games, last played Feb. 24 vs. Oklahoma City
• (D) Justin Krueger - missed seven games, last played Feb. 18 at Chicago
• March 12 - (D) Bobby Sanguinetti recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
• March 12 - (D) Chris Murray reassigned to Florida (ECHL) from Charlotte
• March 11 – (F) Bryan Brutlag released from professional tryout contract
• March 11 – (LW) Casey Haines released from professional tryout contract