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Charlotte Checkers vs. Chicago Wolves
Pink in the Rink weekend begins in Charlotte as the Checkers host the first of back-to-back games against the Chicago Wolves tonight.

This weekend's matchups conclude the four-game season series between the clubs that began on the season's opening weekend in Chicago on Feb. 6 and 7. Each team took one of those games, with the Wolves winning the first in regulation and Charlotte bouncing back to win the second in overtime.

For the ninth consecutive season, the Checkers will be wearing pink jerseys for both games to help raise awareness and funds for women's cancers. They will also become the first AHL team to ever wear pink helmets, with the helmets up for auction following tonight's game.

Charlotte

Game Information

Season Series

After a forgetful road trip that saw them drop back-to-back contests to their division rivals, the Checkers kick off a new month by hosting the Chicago Wolves, one of the teams currently fighting for the final playoff spot. With the schedule approaching its final stretch, the importance of every game ramps up immensely.

“It’s huge,” said head coach Jeff Daniels of this weekend’s series. “Games are starting to run down now and there’s not many games out there left to gain points. These games are crucial.”

The month of February will find the Checkers playing two-game series with four teams directly ahead of them in the Western Conference race. If they are able to string together a win streak, they could find themselves back into the thick of things. Putting those wins together is something that has eluded the team so far this season, and in order to do that, the Checkers will need to bounce back from a disappointing showing in their previous two contests, a pair of lopsided tilts.

“We went through a tough weekend last weekend,” said Daniels, “We came off the break and we forgot about the work part of it.”

Returning to Charlotte after those losses, the Checkers have had a full week of practice to prepare for their upcoming games, something they haven’t had the luxury of in several weeks thanks to a grueling schedule and the All-Star break. Those practices gave the team some much needed sharpening of their game.

“I’ve liked the way we’ve worked this week,” said Daniels. “It’s huge anytime you can practice and work on some things.  We’ve had a lot of time to work on the power play, but most importantly we worked hard all week and hopefully that carries over into the game.”

The Checkers could find themselves shorthanded come game-time tomorrow, as both Brendan Woods and Brock McGinn have missed games due to injury. Woods, who left the game on Jan. 23 against Oklahoma City after taking a hit from Travis Ewaynk (one that earned Ewaynk a suspension), has yet to rejoin the team for practice this week, making him a long shot to be active for this weekend’s slate. McGinn, however, has practiced with the team this week, including being a full participant yesterday morning, after being knocked out of the Checkers visit to San Antonio on Jan. 30.

Speaking to Daniels after yesterday morning’s practice, McGinn’s status for the game still seemed up in the air.

“We'll see how he responds today and hopefully he's an option for tomorrow night,” said Daniels.

The Checkers brought in forward Jason Bast as insurance should McGinn be unavailable for tonight’s game. Bast, a 25-year-old rookie, has lit it up for Idaho of the ECHL this season, with 44 (25g, 19a) points in 43 games, earning ECHL Rookie of the Month honors twice.

Chicago

Team Statistics

 
Record
16-23-6 22-18-6
Standings
14th West 10th West
Goals/Game
2.20 (30th) 2.86 (12th)
GA/Game
2.95 (20th) 3.09 (t-23rd)
Power Play
9.6% (30th) 20.8% (4th)
Penalty Kill
85.8% (8th) 83.4% (15th)
PIM/Game
18.9 (23rd) 15.8 (13th)
The Wolves enter tonight firmly planted in the Western Conference playoff hunt, but have faltered as of late.

After jumping out to a red-hot start, taking 22 of a possible 30 points in the standings through the first 15 games of the season, the Wolves have fallen back to earth, hovering in the bottom half of the playoff teams. Recently, Chicago has dropped four of its last five games, including a 3-2 loss to the struggling Rochester Americans on Tuesday, to put them just on the outside of the playoff bubble. Regardless of their recent skid, the Wolves are still fighting for that last spot.  

Chicago’s offensive attack has been the driving force behind its success this season, as it has the 12th ranked offense in the AHL and the fourth ranked power play. Despite being without young star Ty Rattie, who was recently called up to St. Louis, the Wolves have gotten significant contributions from another pair of forwards. Pat Cannone and Shane Harper rank first and second on the team in scoring, respectively, and have been on fire lately. Harper is in the midst of a seven-game point streak, the second-longest active mark in the league currently, while Cannone has torched opposing defenses for 14 points in his last 13 contests. Recent additions to the lineup Adam Burish and Magnus Paajarvi have also chipped in, racking up four points each in the last three games.

Between the pipes, Matt Climie and Jordan Binnington have split the majority of the starts this season, with the rookie Binnington holding the edge in wins with 13. The Wolves recently lost Climie to injury, however, forcing them to bring in Niklas Lundstrom, who has been manning the crease for the Alaska Aces of the ECHL this season. The rookie saw his first taste of action in Tuesday’s loss to the Americans, stopping all six shots he faced in relief of Binnington.

Checkers Notes

Against Chicago

This weekend's back-to-back games conclude the four-game season series between the Checkers and Chicago. The teams have not faced each other since the season's opening weekend in Chicago, when the Wolves skated out 2-1 winners on Oct. 11and the Checkers bounced back in overtime to earn their first victory of the season by that same score the following day. Charlotte holds an all-time record of 7-9-2 against Chicago, including a 3-5-0 mark at Time Warner Cable Arena.

Ben Holmstrom (1g, 1a) and Brendan Woods (2a) lead the Checkers with two points apiece against the Wolves this season. No Wolves player has multiple points against Charlotte this season.

In goal, Drew MacIntyre earned Charlotte's victory by stopping 42 of 43 shots while John Muse took the loss despite saving 27 of 29. Matt Climie stopped 14 of 15 to defeat the Checkers while Jordan Binnington stopped 14 of 16 to lose in overtime.

LaRose Takes Over

After recording a six-game point streak (3g, 3a) that came to an end in the Checkers' most recent game on Jan. 31, Chad LaRose has taken sole posession of the team scoring lead with 25 points (12g, 13a). The alternate captain has put up 14 of those points in his last 18 games (8g, 6a). In addition to being the team's overall points leader, he also leads the team in shorthanded points (three - t-4th AHL), is tied for second in power-play points (six) and leads the team in shots on goal (115).

LaRose's point streak marked the Checkers' longest of the season, eclipsing his own previous five-game run and another by Ryan Murphy, both of which occurred in December. It also tied the longest of his professional career set during his previous AHL season (4g, 7a for Lowell between Nov. 18-26, 2005).

LaRose, a 32-year-old veteran of 508 NHL games with Carolina, is playing in the AHL for the first time since 2005-06 after taking last season away from hockey. He now has 109 points (53g, 56a) in 171 career AHL games with Lowell and Charlotte.

Killing It

Including a perfect 5-for-5 performance in their last game in Texas on Jan. 31, the Checkers have negated 25 of their opponents' last 26 power plays (96.2 percent) over their last six games dating back to Jan. 16. During that time, they have risen to eighth in the AHL with a season-long percentage of 85.8.

The Checkers have also been able to produce offense while shorthanded, as evidenced by their six shorthanded goals that rank tied for fifth in the league and are two more than their league-low total from all of last season. Chad LaRose has been their most productive shorthanded player with a team-leading three points while shorthanded (t-4th AHL).

Rough Trip

The Checkers' back-to-back losses this past weekend marked the first time that they have dropped consecutive road contests since Dec. 10 and 12. With a combined losing deficit of 9-2, the losses marked the worst two-game stretch that the Checkers have seen this season in terms of goal differential.

Lack Of Firepower

After totaling just two goals in their last two games, the Checkders have fallen back to the cellar in terms of goals per game at 2.16. The 4-0 loss in Texas on Jan. 31 marked the fourth time this season that the Checkers have been shut out, putting them two shy of the franchise's worst mark set in 2011-12. They, along with Toronto, are one of just two teams in the AHL with two or fewer 20-point scorers on their roster (Chad LaRose and Justin Shugg). LaRose's 25 points are tied for the second-lowest for a team-leader in the AHL.

Overtimes

Six of the Checkers' nine overtime games this season have been decided prior to the shootout. Charlotte is 1-5 in those games, tying it with Texas (2-10) for the lowest winning percentage in games decided during the seven-minute period. Meanwhile, the Checkers are 2-1 in the shootout.

Including their most recent overtime in Norfolk on Jan. 21, the Checkers gave up the tying goal with less than 3:30 remaining in regulation in four of their last five overtime losses.

Ranks

  • Kyle Hagel is tied for the AHL lead in major penalties (15)
  • Chad LaRose is tied for the AHL lead in shorthanded assists (3) and is tied for fourth in shorthanded points (3)
  • Drew MacIntyre ranks third in the AHL in saves (871), fourth in minutes (1,782) and tied for 14th in wins (13)

Streaks

  • None

Injuries

  • Brock McGinn - missed one game starting 1/31
  • Brendan Woods - missed two games starting 1/30
  • Gabriel Desjardins - missed 12 games starting 1/4
  • Greg Nemisz - missed 24 games starting 12/8 (out for season)

Milestones

  • Ben Holmstrom is one shy of 300 professional games
  • Zach Boychuk is one shy of 150 AHL assists
  • Justin Shugg is four shy of 100 professional penalty minutes
  • Rasmus Rissanen is seven shy of 300 AHL/professional penalty minutes
  • Drew MacIntyre is two shy of 450 professional games
  • Phil Di Giuseppe is two shy of 50 AHL/professional games
  • John Muse is two shy of 50 AHL wins
  • Kyle Hagel recorded his 950th pro penalty minute on 1/30
  • Ben Holmstrom recorded his 450th pro penalty minute on 1/31

Transactions

Incoming

  • Feb. 6 - (C) Jason Bast signed to professional tryout contract from Idaho (ECHL)
  • Jan. 27 - (RW) Alex Aleardi recalled from Florida (ECHL) to Charlotte (AHL)

Outgoing

  • Jan. 27 - (D) Ryan Murphy recalled by Carolina (NHL)
Paul Branecky
Author: Paul BraneckyEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The Checkers' vice president of communications, Paul Branecky has been covering hockey in North Carolina since 2006, including five seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes.

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