Despite scoring the game’s first goal, Adam Brace’s first as an AHL player, the Checkers surrendered the next two in a 2-1 loss to the Chicago Wolves at Time Warner Cable Arena on Thursday. John Muse made 24 saves yet suffered his first loss of the season as the team fell to 0-3-0 in its own building to the start the campaign.
The Checkers, playing their first home game since Oct. 20 and following a 3-2-1 road trip that included six games in nine days, had a number of chances to tie the game late in the third period, finding some offensive life that they had lacked for much of the outing. With a longer period of time, they could very well have found the equalizer, but simply didn’t give themselves enough of a chance after a sluggish start.
“Just playing 20 minutes isn’t going to work,” said coach Jeff Daniels, whose team out-shot Chicago 16-5 in the third period, equaling its shot total from the previous two periods combined. “We just weren’t very good.”
The Checkers entered the game as one of three AHL teams yet to win at home, joining Utica and Portland, but its two games played in its own building also ranked as the fewest in the league. Though plenty has changed since last season, the team also lost its final two playoff games last spring, bringing the overall streak to five games.
“It’s only been three games and we’ll reassess a few games from now,” said Daniels, who will play 15 of his next 18 at home. “No matter if we’re at home or on the road, we should play the same way with the same tempo, and we didn’t do that tonight.”
Charlotte’s best offensive sequence of the entire game began on a power play with 5:49 remaining when Chicago’s Brent Regner picked up an interference penalty. The man advantage, which had a streak of scoring at least one goal in six consecutive games snapped in the Checkers’ last game, a 5-3 loss in San Antonio on Saturday, produced some great looks but couldn’t apply the finishing touches.
Whether it was missed nets or the mis-hit of one-timers with goalie Jake Allen leaving some net exposed, the final execution was simply not there.
“We started putting a lot more pucks at the net and guys started going there, getting to the paint and working,” said Brett Sutter. “Once we started doing that we got some chances. They weren’t pretty tic-tac-toes like we were trying early in the game, but the third was the period to build off for sure.”
A Charlotte goal to tie the game would have broken a long scoreless sequence, with all three of the game’s goals scored in the second period. Brace, a rookie forward who the Checkers signed to an AHL contract over the summer, got things going when he stuffed home the rebound or Rasmus Rissanen’s attempted centering feed just over four minutes in. Rissanen had started the play by shaking off a slash in his own zone that set up a delayed call, one that would never have to be made when Brace extended his scoring streak to three games (1g, 2a), giving him three points in five career AHL games.
Brace, a 25-year-old who scored 21 points in 17 total games for the ECHL’s Florida Everblades upon turning pro at the conclusion of his college season at Robert Morris University, had sat out most of the team’s previous games as a healthy extra before picking up some fourth-line duty and power-play time over the last week.
“We’ve slowly been increasing his ice time, but he’s still got a lot to learn about the league,” said Daniels of Brace. “Hopefully over time he’ll be another guy that can produce some points for us.”
The lead from Brace’s goal, which marked the ninth time the Checkers have struck first in 11 games this season, was short lived. Just over a minute later, the Wolves took the lead when Corey Locke, a former AHL MPV, found David Shields open to Muse’s left for a finish, becoming the first Wolves player to score on Muse in 85:40 of game action dating back to the Checkers’ 5-0 shutout win in the first meeting between the two clubs on Oct. 27.
Later in the period, Shields made the key play by intercepting Checkers scoring leader Victor Rask’s backhand pass up the middle of the ice in the defensive zone and sending a pass over to Nathan Longpre for the tap-in. The play came just 33 seconds after Charlotte had gotten back to even strength after killing consecutive penalties to Justin Shugg and Sutter that included 38 seconds of a two-man advantage.
“Sometimes it’s a boost when you kill those off, especially a five-on-three, but obviously the kept the momentum and were able to score that winner,” said Daniels.
As advertised by Daniels earlier in the day, Lindholm did see plenty of ice in his AHL debut, but was mostly quiet except for a few nifty plays to create scoring chances around the net during Charlotte’s final power play.
“I thought he was fine, but he still has another level to get to,” said Daniels. “You forget he’s still an 18-year-old kid and this is a tough league, and I expect him to get better every day.”
“It was a little bit of an adjustment for us, going from playing not many minutes to a bigger role,” said Sutter, who was also playing his first Checkers game of the season after a reassignment from Carolina this week.
If their stronger finish to this game is any indication, it’s possible that those adjustments have already been made, or can continue to be made ahead of Saturday’s rematch with the Wolves.
“We’ll watch some video and correct some things, get a little greasier, a little hungrier around the net and find a way to score some goals,” said Sutter.
NotesThis season marks the first time the Checkers have ever started a season with three regulation losses at home. The team went 0-2-1 in 2010-11, its inaugural season … The Checkers were playing without forward Chris Terry, recalled to Carolina on Wednesday in exchange for Lindholm, for just the eighth time in the last four seasons … Each team went 0-for-4 on the power play, with Charlotte not allowing a power-play goal for the first time in its last four games … Center Brody Sutter missed the game due to injury and defenseman Beau Schmitz was a healthy scratch for Charlotte ... Fans voted Muse as the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game.
North Carolina Education Lottery Three Stars1. David Shields (Chicago)
2. Jake Allen (Chicago)
3. John Muse