Tossing aside concerns caused by the Checkers’ tumultuous goaltending situation, John Muse earned a 30-save shutout in his AHL season debut as Charlotte began a hectic road trip with a 5-0 victory in Grand Rapids. Five different goal scorers – Mark Flood, Chris Terry, Victor Rask, Brendan Woods and Zach Boychuk - provided the offense as the Checkers, who fell 7-2 in their last game against Iowa on Sunday, improved to a perfect 3-0-0 in away games to start the season.
Boychuk also added two assists, tying defenseman Michal Jordan for a game-high three points. It was the first career three-point night for Jordan, who played in his first AHL All-Star Classic last season.
Though the final score might suggest that the Checkers could have gotten away with less-than-stellar goaltending on this particular night, Muse, a former Checker who rejoined the team on a professional tryout contract two days earlier, was instrumental in picking up the victory. That was particularly true in the second period, when Grand Rapids, down 2-0 at the time, came out with renewed focus in just their second home game of the season.
In the midst of that barrage, Muse, who did an excellent job of limiting rebound opportunities throughout the night, made several key saves, including a pair of point-blank chances that could have otherwise turned the tide. Complementing the Checkers’ power-play prowess, he was an important part of a penalty kill that nullified all four chances for a Grand Rapids team that was clicking at a 21.4 percent rate entering the game.
By starting Muse, the Checkers became the first AHL team to use four different goaltenders this season – a development made possible when injuries to the Carolina Hurricanes’ top two netminders caused the departures of Justin Peters and Mike Murphy. The Checkers accomplished that feat in just five games.
Five different players scoring goals represented the most balanced offensive night the Checkers have enjoyed this season, though the game did not start out in that manner. Heading in to the match-up, Flood and Terry, who scored man-advantage goals less than two minutes apart towards the end of the first period, had combined for six of the team’s nine goals this season – a number that quickly increased to eight of 11.
The two are again tied for team’s goal scoring lead with four apiece. Flood has already shattered the mark of one goal he scored in 52 KHL games last season, while Terry is the only Checker to have scored at least one point in all five of the team’s games (4g, 1a).
After Muse had done his best to keep the Griffins off the board to start the second period – a surge that could have been fueled in part by the home team’s decision to pull starting netminder Petr Mrazek in favor of Tom McCollum during the intermission – Rask restored his team’s momentum with his first goal of the season on a bullet of a wrist shot from the slot.
In period three, rookie forward Brendan Woods kept things going with his first professional goal, an attempted centering feed to Matt Marquardt that went off a Grand Rapids skate and into the net. Boychuk then made it five just seconds into the team’s final power play, walking in from the right point and snapping one into the goal for his second of the season.
The Checkers, who improved to 3-2-0 on the season, will get precious little time to enjoy the victory, as they now head to Rockford for the middle game of a three-in-three set that will conclude in Chicago on Sunday. After that, they repeat part of that trip with second games in Grand Rapids and Rockford on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, before wrapping things up in San Antonio the following Saturday.
Charlotte will not return home until Nov. 7, when it hosts the first of two games against Chicago.