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Charlotte Checkers Game Preview

Game Preview: Checkers at Grand Rapids (Oct. 30, 2013)

Charlotte Checkers at Grand Rapids Griffins
After a grueling three-in-three stretch that saw the Checkers play three consecutive nights in three different cities, the next leg of their road trip might look like a case of déjà vu.

Tonight, the Checkers will once again make the trip to Grand Rapids to face the defending Calder Cup champion Griffins for the second time in five days. It's the first game of a back-to-back for Charlotte, who will be facing yet another familiar opponent in Rockford tomorrow night, a team that the Checkers also played just this past weekend. This next stretch of three games in four nights continues Charlotte's franchise-long road trip, which included a stop in Chicago and will end in San Antonio on Saturday. This will be the second of four total head-to-head meetings between Charlotte and Grand Rapids, but the teams won't face each other again until April 10.

The Checkers enjoyed a highly successful start to their trip this past weekend, finishing with a 2-0-1 record that included a convincing pair of 5-0 wins against the Griffins and Chicago. With Charlotte earning five of a possible six points from those three games, it now sits in second in the West Division – with a chance to take a share of the lead with a win and a Texas loss tonight – and sixth in the Western Conference with a 4-2-1 record. At 4-0-1, the Checkers have yet to suffer a regulation loss on the road.

Charlotte

Game Information

Season Series

  • Oct. 25
    Checkers 5 at GR 0
  • Oct. 30
    at Grand Rapids (7 p.m.)
  • April 10
    at Charlotte (7 p.m.)
  • April 13
    at Charlotte (7 p.m.)
Despite a tumultuous goaltending situation that saw the Checkers lose their two top goalies to the Hurricanes due to injuries, Charlotte put on its best defensive performance of the young season. John Muse and Allen York – who has since been released following the signing of former New York Islander Rick DiPietro to a tryout contract – allowed just one goal in three games, with the former posting two shutouts on his way to AHL Player of the Week honors.

One of those shutouts came against the Griffins, who couldn’t find a way past Muse as he recorded 30 saves in his AHL season debut. Muse, who began the season with ECHL Fort Wayne, was excellent in providing a safety net behind the Checkers defense, limiting second-chance opportunities and helping neutralize four power-play chances for the Griffins.

“He proved two years ago what he’s capable of doing,” said coach Jeff Daniels, who saw Muse make a similar start to his Checkers career in 2011. “He definitely looks like he’s back to his old self.”

After seeing Chris Terry and Mark Flood record six of the team’s first nine goals to start the season, the rest of the offense seemed to find its groove in the last three games, with Victor Rask, Brendan Woods, Nicolas Blanchard, and Justin Shugg all finding the net for the first time this season. Charlotte also recorded five different goal scorers in the two wins after having just five different scorers through the first three games of the season. Terry and Flood continue to shoulder the load for the Checkers, with each recording two goals over the weekend and Terry extending his point streak to seven games.

“That huge,” said Daniels, in reference to the secondary scoring output from the Checkers this weekend. “Chris and Flood are scoring, but to see Rask, Shugg, and Blanch get those first goals, now others are feeling confident and we’re getting more players scoring, which is how it has to be.”

The three-in-three also sparked a fire in the Charlotte power play, which began the season just 2-for-17 before breaking out to score seven goals in 18 opportunities over the weekend. The three games also showed a resurgence in the Checkers' penalty kill, which finished a perfect 14-for-14 and raised its kill percentage to a stellar 84.4.

“The power play has been good, even though it wasn’t scoring we were moving the puck well,” said Daniels. “On the penalty kill, everyone is on the same page and we’re reacting to each other as a group of four.”

Getting back to a regular schedule and consistent game action has also helped Charlotte in terms of rediscovering some rhythm that was lost following the two-week layoff before the home opener. The Checkers came out flat in getting swept by Iowa, but now it seems as though everybody is finally comfortable and clicking, which could prove to be very dangerous for other teams.

“Now that we have some games under our belt, we’re starting to get chemistry now in all situations which you can’t do without game action,” said Daniels. “We’re in a rhythm now, and that’s what the season is all about.”

It remains to be seen which Charlotte goaltender Grand Rapids will face, as Muse looks to extend his 120 minute shutout streak and DiPietro, the first overall NHL draft choice in 2000, looks to begin his comeback to the NHL. Daniels has stated that DiPietro will make his Checkers debut sometime this week, though he did not reveal when.

Grand Rapids

Team Statistics

 
Record
4-2-1 4-2-2
Standings
6th West 5th West
Goals/Game
2.86 (17th) 3.38 (t-5th)
GA/Game
2.29 (4th) 3.13 (t-21st)
Power Play
25.7% (5th) 16.7% (16th)
Penalty Kill
84.4% (t-10th) 74.4% (26th)
PIM/Game
16.4 (11th) 13.9 (3rd)
Despite coming out flat in the 5-0 loss to Charlotte in their first game of a three-in-three, Grand Rapids went right back to work and finished with back-to-back 3-2 wins over Chicago and Iowa to improve their record to 4-2-2 on the season. The two wins marked the fifth and sixth consecutive road games in which the Griffins have recorded at least one point, enjoying similar success as Charlotte away from home this season.

Gustav Nyquist continues to lead the way for the Griffins with eight points on three goals and five assists, but he is followed closely by Teemu Pulkkinen and Tomas Jurco, who have both totaled seven points. Grand Rapids had to come from behind against Chicago, scoring two third-period goals to keep its road streak alive before needing a late shorthanded goal from Landon Ferraro with 46 seconds left to win the game against Iowa.

An area of concern for the Griffins heading into tonight's game will be their recent performance on the power play. Before the first game against Charlotte on Oct. 25, the Griffins were converting on 21.4 percent of their power-play opportunities. Including the game against the Checkers, however, Grand Rapids has only one goal in its last 15 opportunities in the past three games, and with Charlotte a perfect 14-for-14 on the penalty kill this past weekend, it doesn't look like it's going to get any easier.

The Griffins team that the Checkers will face tonight will have a slightly different look than it did five days ago, as the Detroit Red Wings called up center Luke Glendening from Grand Rapids and reassigned defensemen Richard Nedomlel and forward Marek Tvrdon to ECHL Toledo from the Griffins.

It will be tough to predict which goaltender the Griffins will start in the game against Charlotte. Petr Mrazek was in goal to begin the game the last time the two teams played each other, but he was pulled in favor of Tom McCollum after allowing two goals on 12 shots. McCollum has started each of the last two games since then, but it is unclear if he will start a third straight game or if coach Jeff Blashill will elect to go with Mrazek in the rematch.

Checkers Notes

Muse's Perfect Start

John Muse
Goalie John Muse, a former Checker who returned to the team on a professional tryout contract last week, made 57 total saves to record shutouts in each of his two starts - at Grand Rapids on Friday and at Chicago on Sunday. In doing so, he became the second Checkers goalie to record shutouts in back-to-back starts, joining Justin Peters, who made 47 total saves on Jan. 4 and Jan. 11 of last season, also both on the road in Lake Erie and Oklahoma City.

Muse's active shutout streak of 120 minutes is the third-longest in team history, trailing Peters' mark of 143:43 seconds set during that run in January and the team record of 153:14 set by Dan Ellis in October of last season. He is the first AHL goalie to post two shutouts this season, and now has four in his AHL career.

Muse, one of three goalies (Syracuse's Kristers Gudlevskis and Texas' Josh Robinson) who have a perfect 1.00 save percentage and 0.00 goals-against average among those who have played enough minutes to qualify (60), also had a fast start to his AHL season in 2011-12. Beginning with his Checkers debut against Chicago on Dec. 16, 2011, he stopped 92 of the first 93 shots he faced over a three-game period.

Floodgates Open

Mark Flood scored his fifth goal in six games on Saturday, becoming the fastest Checkers defenseman to reach the five-goal mark. Justin Faulk set the previous record by scoring his fifth goal in his 23rd game last season. No Charlotte blueliner has ever scored more than 10 goals in a single season, a mark set by Bobby Sanguinetti in 2011-12.

Flood, who is tied with Chris Terry for the team lead in goals, ranks second among AHL defensemen in goals and is tied for second in power-play goals (three). He has already surpassed his total of one goal from 52 KHL games with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl last season and is nearly halfway to his AHL career high of 11, set with Manitoba during the 2010-11 campaign.

Terry Takes Off

With his power-play goal against Chicago on Sunday, Chris Terry continued his record as the only Checkers player to score at least one point in all seven of the team's games this season (5g, 3a). His current streak is tied for the third longest in the AHL.

Terry, who has led the Checkers in scoring for each of the past two seasons and is also the team's current leader with eight points, has tied his longest point streak from all of last season. He is one game shy of his personal record of eight games, set twice during the 2011-12 campaign. The team record is held by Bobby Sanguinetti, who scored in 11 consecutive games, also during the 2011-12 campaign.

Special Teams Spike

After starting the season with one power-play goal in their first 13 opportunities (7.7 percent), the Checkers have eight goals in their last 22 chances (36.4 percent), including at least one goal in each of their last four games. That run, which includes two seperate three-goal performances in Grand Rapids and Chicago last weekend, has seen the Checkers climb into fifth place in the AHL with a percentage of 25.7.

On the other side of things, the Checkers started the season by allowing at least one power-play goal in each of their first four games (72.2 percent), but have kept teams off the board in each of their last three (14-for-14).

Musical Goalies

By starting Allen York on Saturday, the Checkers became the first and only AHL team to use five different goaltenders this season (Justin Peters, Mike Murphy, Jesse Deckert, John Muse) - a feat that they achieved in just six games. That number, which ties the team record set last season, will again increase to six when the Checkers use Rick DiPietro, who became the third goalie to sign a professional tryout contract with the team in a four-day span between Wednesday and Saturday.

When the Carolina Hurricanes dressed Peters and Murphy at Colorado on Friday, it marked the third consecutive season in which the two goalies on Charlotte's opening night roster would go on to be reunited in the NHL during the same campaign. Peters and Murphy also dressed for Carolina at the same time during the 2011-12 season, while Peters and Dan Ellis became Hurricanes teammates in 2012-13.

Packing Up

The Checkers' current stretch of six consecutive road games is part of a single trip from Oct. 25-Nov. 2, making it the longest in team history in terms of consecutive days away from home. The Checkers are 4-0-1 on the road this season, giving them an active five-game road point streak that tied for third-longest in the AHL.

Charlotte is one of just eight AHL teams yet to suffer a regulation loss on the road, with four of those teams having played fewer road games than the Checkers' five. This marks the team's best road record to start a season, edging out last year's 3-1-1 mark.

Change of Pace

After playing four games in the season's first 21 days, the Checkers are currently in the midst of their busiest stretch of the season by playing six in nine. All games will be played on the road, and never in consecutive locations.

Against the Griffins

The Checkers have an all-time record of 7-2-0 against the Griffins, including a 4-1-0 record in Grand Rapids. Of teams that the Checkers have played since moving to the Western Conference prior to the 2011-12 campaign, the Checkers have a higher winning percentage against only one team, the since-relocated Peoria Rivermen.

Quick Hits

  • Terry and Flood both have active five-game point streaks on the road, putting them in a five-way tie for longest in the AHL this season
  • The Checkers, who lost in a shootout to Rockford on Saturday, have yet to trail on the road for a single second this season.
  • Despite allowing seven goals to Iowa on Oct. 20, the Checkers rank fourth in the AHL with a goals-against average of 2.29.

Player Streaks

  • Chris Terry has points in each of his last seven games (Oct. 4-27; 5g, 3a)
  • Mark Flood has points in each of his last four games (Oct. 20-27: 3g, 2a)
  • Aaron Palushaj has assists and points in each of his last two games (Oct. 26-7; 1g, 2a)

Transactions

Incoming

  • Oct. 26 - (G) Rick DiPietro signed to professional tryout contract
  • Oct. 23 - (G) John Muse signed to professional tryout contract

Outgoing

  • Oct. 28 - (G) Allen York released from professional tryout contract
  • Oct. 25 - (G) Mike Murphy recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
Author: Lucas SmithEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.