Playing three road games in three days without their top two goaltenders seemed as though it would be a daunting task for the Checkers. It was a test they passed with flying colors.
John Muse made 27 saves to record his second shutout in as many starts this season as the Checkers defeated the Wolves by a 5-0 score in Chicago on Sunday. Together with a 5-0 win in Grand Rapids, in which Muse made 30 saves, and a 2-1 shootout loss in Rockford, the Checkers improved to 4-0-1 on the road this season.
Chris Terry, Nicolas Blanchard, Justin Shugg, Aaron Palushaj and Brody Sutter all found the back of the net for the Checkers, who scored three power-play goals for the second time in three games. With the most hectic portion of their current road trip out of the way, the team will now enjoy two days off before finishing their road trip with returns to Grand Rapids and Rockford and a finale in San Antonio later this week.
The Checkers, using a combination of Muse and Allen York, another professional tryout signing who made 28 saves in Rockford, allowed one total goal over the course of the three-game weekend – six fewer than they allowed in their previous game alone. Muse, who now has four career AHL shutouts, became the second Checkers goalie to record back-to-back shutouts, joining Justin Peters, who made 47 total saves against Lake Erie and Oklahoma City on Jan. 4 and Jan. 11 of last season.
Sunday’s game also marked the second time that Muse, who was playing with ECHL Fort Wayne until the Checkers signed him on Wednesday, had earned a shutout in Chicago. He made 32 saves against the Wolves on Feb. 18, 2012, but ended up losing 1-0 in the shootout.
Like Friday’s win by the same lopsided score, Muse had to be better than one might expect, with the Checkers not pulling away until a three-goal third period. Though the defense did a good job of limiting scoring chances, including a second period that saw Chicago muster just five shots, Muse was there to cover up for any breakdowns, including a point-blank save on Christian Hanson on a two-on-none break when the score was still 2-0.
Even Blanchard’s goal that put the Checkers up by two, a rebound finish after Jared Staal collected the puck on a defensive-zone turnover and put a backhand shot on net, came after a big stop by Muse on Tyler Shattock that could have tied the game.
After running into a hot goalie in Rockford’s Antti Raanta one night earlier, the Checkers offense, something of a question mark heading into the season due to a handful of key departures, gave Muse more than enough support by the end of the night. Terry was the first player to beat standout goalie Jake Allen, getting the puck back after a first attempt hit the post for his fifth goal of the season.
Terry, now tied with defenseman Mark Flood for the team lead in goals with five, has at least one point in every game this season. The seven-game run ties his longest from last season and is one shy of his career high, set twice previously.
Terry would also add an assist on Justin Shugg’s first goal of the season just 31 seconds into the third period. However, the catalyst to that goal was rookie center Victor Rask, who lifted the stick of a Chicago defenseman just before he could clear the zone and sent a quick backhand pass through traffic to a waiting Shugg for the finish.
Minutes after nullifying a Checkers five-on-three power play with a tripping penalty, Palushaj added the team’s fourth goal with a breakaway deke that went through Allen’s legs. Sutter then put icing on the cake by tipping in Flood’s shot from the point with 2:27 remaining.
After starting the season with just one goal in their first 13 power-play opportunities, the Checkers have now scored at least one goal in each of their last four games, including the two three-goal performances. During that time, they are clicking at a 36.4 percent rate (8-for-22).
On the other side of the special teams spectrum, the Checkers killed all five Chicago power plays, making them a perfect 14-for-14 in their last three outings.