For the second time in three days on Saturday, the Chicago Wolves skated away with a 2-1 victory in Time Warner Cable arena that left the Checkers still searching for their first home victory of the season. Brendan Woods opened the scoring with his second goal of the season in the first period and John Muse made 27 saves as the team fell to 0-4-0 at home and 5-6-1 on the season, marking its first foray into sub-.500 territory.
Dating back to last season’s playoffs, the Checkers, who will play 14 of their next 17 in Charlotte, have now lost six consecutive games at home. Coach Jeff Daniels bluntly denied that there was any additional pressure to pick up the first home victory, saying that the energy level was better than it was two nights earlier.
“We lost to a good team tonight,” he said. “You always want to look at yourself, but sometimes you’ve got to look at the other team. That’s a veteran team that played a solid road game.”
“It’s a little bit of a coincidence, but for whatever reason guys are relaxing a little bit and thinking it’s going to be easy,” said forward Zach Boychuk. “We need to figure that out. We need our arena to be a tough place to play in, and we have to play like we do on the road. We’ve got to keep it more simple.”
Keeping things simple is as good of an answer as anyone on the team seems to have when it comes to solving the team’s scoring woes, the chief culprit for three of its four home losses. Woods’ goal, in which he and Adam Brace took turns stabbing at rebounds from a Matt Marquardt shot from a sharp angle that goalie Jake Allen was unable to handle, was a good example of that.
“That’s the way we’ve got to score and the way we’re built,” said Daniels. “We’re not going to score a lot of pretty goals for the most part. Woodsy and those guys have to go to the net and look for rebounds.”
“We’re getting chances and we’re hitting posts here and there, but you have to bear down and earn those opportunities,” said Boychuk. “We just need to work a little bit harder and get a little bit more bite to our game.”
Though the Checkers scored the first goal in both Chicago games – and in seven consecutive games, for that matter – a difference between Thursday’s meeting with the Wolves and this one was that the team seemed to start better on Saturday before running out of steam as the game went on. In the second period, it had a lengthy power-play opportunity, including a brief two-man advantage, that didn’t convert. The same could have been said of a power play with three minutes remaining that did not feature a scoring chance, in stark contrast to a late man-advantage on Thursday that looked promising and did everything but score.
“We don’t score on the five-on-three and on the power play, and that’s the difference in the game,” said Boychuk.
The Checkers are now 0-for-13 on the power play in their last three games, two of which were played without perennial scoring leader Chris Terry, who earned an NHL recall to Carolina partly for that reason. Terry is still the team’s leader with seven power-play points.
“I’m not going to dwell on who’s here and who’s not here,” said Daniels. “Our focus is on the guys in that locker room, and we’ve got to make the guys in that locker room work and find a way to win. There’s no sense wasting energy on guys that aren’t here.”
Just as in Thursday’s game, the Wolves, who lost to Charlotte by a 5-0 score in the first meeting between the two teams on Oct. 27, rallied back after falling behind. This time, the goals came in the second period through Evan Oberg, who blasted a shot past Muse from the top of the circles, and Michael Davies, who converted a one-timer on a Wolves power play with Aaron Palushaj in the box for interference.
Though Muse still made several key stops – Daniels, who started Muse for the second consecutive game, breaking an even rotation that existed in the two weeks since Rick DiPietro joined the team – both goals are ones that he might have stopped en route to league-leading numbers in his previous games.
“I just didn’t make the save,” said Muse. “They did a good job of getting guys in front. I was too slow to react on the first one and I overreacted on the second one.”
At the time of the first goal, Muse had protested after being hit in the mask with a Chicago stick just as Oberg was delivering the shot that would produce the goal. Following the game, he wasn’t using it as an excuse.
“A little bit, but it happens,” he said.
The Checkers, one of just two teams (Utica) that have yet to earn a home victory this season, will now have a three-day break before they resume their four-game home stand with back-to-back games against the Hershey Bears starting Wednesday.
“I think everybody knows we can play better than what we showed tonight,” said Muse. “That’s what we’re going to work on this week in practice for the games coming up.”
NOTESBrace extended his point streak to four games (1g, 3a) with the primary assist on Woods’ goal. Prior to that, he had sat out six of eight as a healthy extra … Prior to giving up Davies’ goal, the Checkers had killed all 12 Chicago power plays it had faced this season … Brett Sutter led the Checkers with four shots on goal … Forward Brody Sutter missed his fourth straight game due to injury … Defenseman Beau Schmitz was a healthy extra ... Fans voted Woods as the CBCC Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the game.
North Carolina Education Lottery Three Stars1. Michael Davies
2. Jake Allen
3. Brendan Woods