Charlotte (35-24-9) enters the match-up coming off back-to-back road victories in Grand Rapids and Peoria that give it its first win streak in nearly two months. That has them in in a three-way tie for fifth in the Western Conference, while tonight’s opponents, the Admirals (34-28-6) are trying to make a late charge of their own to get back into the playoff picture. Milwaukee currently ranks 12th in the conference, five points behind Charlotte.
The Checkers lead the eight-game series between the two clubs with a record of 4-1-0, including wins in each of the last four meetings. Charlotte and Milwaukee are tied for the fewest games played in the league (68), giving them games in hand on the rest of the playoff race.
Including the sweep of their weekend road trip, the Checkers now have three wins in their last five outings – the same amount of victories earned in their previous 14. The turnaround comes due to solving the biggest problem that plagued them during their slide – the inability to finish scoring chances.
“I had liked the way we were playing (prior to the wins), and other than the goals, really nothing changed,” said Daniels.
“It was so close for so many games, and last weekend was a good example of what we’re capable of doing,” said center Zac Dalpe. “We have a lot of firepower.”
The Checkers scored six, five and four goals, respectively, in each of their last three wins, improving their record to 29-4-2 when they score at least three times. Besides finding the “killer instinct” that had previously eluded them, a consistent roster and line combinations have also contributed.
“For the last four or five games we haven’t had to change the lines too much,” said Daniels. “During the season you’re constantly mixing it up with guys getting called up and things like that, but we’ve had the same group for a while now.”
Though recalls to Carolina have been few and far between (Drayson Bowman is the only player on the Checkers’ Clear Day roster still in the NHL), injuries have still taken their toll. A.J. Jenks and Bobby Sanguinetti are day-to-day with upper-body injuries (neither practiced on Monday), while Nicolas Blanchard is out indefinitely.
Should Jenks not be able to play tonight, rookie Brody Sutter would likely make his professional debut. Sutter, cousin of Checkers captain Brett Sutter and Hurricanes center Brandon Sutter, signed an amateur tryout contract with Charlotte following the conclusion of his junior hockey career in March. He had 60 points (30g, 30a) while serving as captain of the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes this season.
12th Western Conference
GOALS / GAME
GOALS ALLOWED / GAME
PIM / GAME
Once neck and neck with the Checkers as the two jockeyed for the Midwest Division lead, both teams now trail the come-from-behind Chicago Wolves for that honor, though making the postseason is the most important goal for the time being.
Though they currently find themselves four points out of eighth place, the Admirals could easily return to the pack by winning their games in hand. Like the Checkers, they have eight games remaining – three of which are head-to-head meetings.
As they attempt to make up ground, they may have to do so without a group of their players. The Admirals took part in a bench-clearing brawl during Sunday’s game in Rockford that saw four of their players, including starting goalie Jeremy Smith, and head coach Ian Herbers ejected in the second period. As of this posting, the AHL had yet to announce any supplemental discipline.
Should suspensions result from the incident, the biggest potential loss would undoubtedly be Smith, whose fight with Rockford’s Rob Flick started the melee. Smith has appeared in 51 of the Admirals 68 games and ranks near the top of most AHL goaltending statistics, while backup Atte Engren is 6-10-3 on the season, including losses in both of his meetings against the Checkers.
Other Admirals players who received game misconducts on Sunday were defenseman Jeff Foss and forwards Michael Latta and Zack Stortini.
TERRY STREAKS AGAIN: With two assists against Peoria on Saturday, forward Chris Terry extended his point streak to six games (3g, 6a). It marks his third streak of six or more games this season, as he previously went on runs of eight and seven contests. His seven-game streak that ended on Jan. 27 was his most prolific, producing 14 points. Terry’s run has moved him into a tie for 16th in the AHL with 57 points (15g, 42a) in 66 games.
MAJOR PLUS: Playing his first two games since suffering an upper-body injury on Feb. 18, rookie defenseman Justin Krueger recorded an assist and a plus-3 rating across Charlotte’s recent games in Grand Rapids and Peoria. Krueger is now plus-16 on the season, tying him for third among first-year AHL players and giving him an 11-point lead over the next-highest Checker, fellow rookie Justin Shugg (plus-5).
THE MAGIC NUMBER: The Checkers are 29-4-2 when scoring three or more goals this season. All four of those regulation losses were the result of games in which the team scored exactly three goals, making them 18-0-1 when scoring four or more. When the Checkers score two or fewer goals, they are 6-20-7 for the season.
SPECIAL SPECIAL TEAMS: The Checkers are one of two teams (Hershey) to rank in the AHL’s top five in both the power play and penalty kill. They are tied for No. 4 on the power play with a 19.9 percent success rate and rank second on the penalty kill at 85.5 percent.
• (D) Bobby Sanguinetti has points in each of his last six games (March 16-March 25; 2g, 8a)
• (LW) Chris Terry has points in each of his last six games (March 20-31; 3g, 6a)
• (LW) Justin Shugg has points in each of his last three games (March 25-31; 1g, 2a)
• (C) Brett Sutter has assists and points in each of his last two games (March 30-31; 2g, 2a)
• (C) Sean Dolan has points in each of his last two games (March 30-31; 1g, 1a)
• (LW) Chris Durno has points in each of his last two games (March 30-31; 1g, 1a)
• (RW) Jerome Samson has points in each of his last two games (March 30-31; 1g, 1a)
• (D) Michal Jordan has assists and points in each of his last two games (March 30-31; 2a)
• (D) Bobby Sanguinetti – missed two games, last played March 25 at Hershey
• (RW) Nicolas Blanchard – missed three games, last played March 24 at Hershey
• (LW) Justin Soryal – missed eight games, last played March 11 vs. Chicago (out for season)
• March 27 – (D) Brandon Gentile released from professional tryout
• April 2 – (F) Mathieu Aubin signed to professional tryout
• April 1 – (D) Dave Leaderer recalled to Milwaukee from Cincinnati (ECHL)
• April 1 – (D) Jeff Foss recalled to Milwaukee from Cincinnati (ECHL)