The Checkers began their short preseason slate on a high note, defeating the Norfolk Admirals by a 4-2 score at Extreme Ice Center in Indian Trail.
Aaron Palushaj, a newcomer signed by the Carolina Hurricanes this summer, had two goals, including an empty-net tally. Matt Marquardt and Zach Boychuk also scored, while Justin Peters made 20 saves.
With the win not necessarily the most important thing at this juncture of the season, coach Jeff Daniels said that he saw the expected mix of good and bad from his team’s first game together, ranging from the solid play of his veterans to some defensive shortcomings that Peters, an AHL All-Star last season, was able to cover.
“There were some breakdowns, but he was there for us,” said Daniels of his goaltender.
“That’s part of the preseason – just getting our feet wet,” said Peters, who is entering his eighth pro season. “That's what this is for, and it’s my job to make up for those mistakes.”
Palushaj, a veteran of 66 NHL games with Montreal and Colorado, scored the nicest goal of the day, a tic-tac-toe, power-play tally involving Boychuk and fellow debutante Mark Flood to make the score 3-1 in the third period before adding the late insurance.
“I thought that we played well, and for the first game we really had some chemistry going,” said Palushaj.
“That was our most skilled line,” said Daniels, who did not have usual mainstays like Zac Dalpe, Riley Nash and Chris Terry, all still in NHL training camp with Carolina, at his disposal. “They showed what they're capable of doing.”
Though Palushaj has played for three different NHL organizations within the last year, he’s proven to be an effective player at the AHL level, scoring 35 points in 35 games for Hamilton two seasons ago.
“He can produce, and for a veteran guy he really played hard,” said Daniels. “He’s a good addition for us.”
Boychuk had the most scoring chances of the three players on Charlotte’s top line, including a breakaway chance in the second period and his goal, a surprising shot from a sharp angle that beat former Hurricanes prospect Frederik Andersen.
“I kept second-guessing myself because there was a guy open in the slot and I thought I was going to pass,” said Boychuk, who had little to no reaction at the time of the goal. “It was kind of a lucky one, and it definitely wasn’t one worth celebrating for.”
Marquardt’s goal tied the game at 1-1 in the first period when the big winger cashed in on a rebound created by Flood’s shot from the point and Brody Sutter’s screen in front of Andersen. Earlier, the Admirals’ Alex Grant roofed a shot from the slot over Peters’ blocker later in the first period before Boychuk gave his team its first lead in the second.
Grant, a defenseman, also had Norfolk’s other goal in the third period that made the score 3-2 in favor of Charlotte - a low shot through traffic on the power play that appeared to sneak through Peters’ legs.
With the exception of Boychuk’s, all of the game’s goals came on the power play. The Checkers were 2-for-6, while Norfolk finished 2-for-5.
Typical of a preseason game, there were also two fights, one involving the Checkers’ Brendan Woods and the other featuring new addition Stefan Della Rovere, plenty of post-whistle scrums and exchanges of harsh words. Norfolk’s Zack Stortini, who has played a few seasons as an enforcer at the NHL level, was involved in much of it.
“It’s exhibition hockey,” said Daniels, mostly shrugging it off. “Guys are trying to make a name for themselves.”
“There’s going to be a lot of that rough and tough stuff,” added Boychuk. “But I don’t know that I’ll be involved in it.”
The teams now head to Norfolk to complete the home-and-home set on Saturday night. It will mark Charlotte’s last preseason game and the final chance for the team’s fringe players to make an impression, with more additions likely coming down from Carolina in subsequent days.