At least for one night, the Checkers’ resilient but inexperienced group finally fell short.
Despite two goals by new All-Star defenseman Michal Jordan and another from Justin Shugg, the team’s franchise-record, six-game win streak came to an end after a 5-3 loss to the Grand Rapids Griffins on Thursday. The loss was the Checkers’ first in 2013 and first in seven all-time meetings with Grand Rapids.
Goalie Justin Peters, also named to the AHL All-Star Classic less than two hours before game time, made 36 saves as the Checkers were out-shot 41-17. Charlotte’s 17 shots tied a franchise record for fewest in a single game, set just one night earlier in a 1-0 win against the Griffins.
Despite the lopsided shot total, the Checkers were in the game throughout, having only fallen behind for good on Joakim Andersson’s goal midway through the third period, his third point of the night.
“I saw a lot of action tonight,” acknowledged Peters, who had earned shutouts in three of his previous four starts. “We didn’t have our best tonight, but I thought we fought hard.”
“I can’t fault the effort tonight,” agreed coach Jeff Daniels.
The Checkers, as they’ve done throughout a week in which they’ve had to make do without a host of their top players who remain in NHL training camp with the Carolina Hurricanes, were able to capitalize on limited opportunities. That began with Jordan’s shorthanded goal at the six-minute mark of the opening period, in which he crashed the net and redirected a cross-crease Riley Nash pass into the net behind goalie Tom McCollum.
The goal was the Checkers’ sixth shorthanded goal of the season, tying them for third in the AHL. All six were scored by different players, with Jordan’s counting as the first of his professional career.
After the Griffins’ Jeff Hoggan had tied the game less than four minutes later, Jordan added a second on a shot from the point that snuck in behind McCollum’s outstretched glove, sealing the first multi-goal game of his professional career. In 182 previous AHL games, he had scored just nine times.
“It’s hard to say,” said Jordan when asked if news of his first All-Star appearance might have factored into his offensive breakthrough. “I had been working hard and getting a lot of shots that didn’t go in and I was happy to get those two breaks, but I was disappointed to not get the two points we were looking for."
They were enough to give the Checkers a 2-1 lead at the intermission, but the Griffins would score four of the next five, two on either side of Shugg’s goal early in the third period that extended his point streak to four games (1g, 3a), to seal the win.
"It just seemed like they were a little quicker than us," said Peters. "I think over a 60-minute game of attrition, by the end it's going to catch up to you."
The game marked the Checkers debut of forward Andreas Nodl, who the Carolina Hurricanes assigned to Charlotte after he cleared waivers earlier in the day. Nodl, an NHL regular with Carolina last season, was playing his first AHL game since April 9, 2010, with the Adirondack Phantoms.
The game proved to be tough sledding for the 25-year-old, who spent the recently-completed lockout playing in his native Austria.
“It was my first game in a while, and even though I was playing overseas it’s obviously different,” he said.
“Most of the guys here have been playing all season, and it’s hard to jump into the pace right away,” said Daniels.
After learning that he cleared waivers and was able to join the Checkers at noon, Nodl got stuck in weather-related traffic on the drive from Raleigh, arriving at the rink just over two hours before game time.
“I hadn’t been skating in the last few days, and I drove here and there as a little bit of traffic, and I just felt awful out there,” he said. “It was kind of like I had bus legs.”
Unless the Hurricanes work out a trade involving Nodl, it seems as though he’ll remain with the Checkers for the foreseeable future – something he’s prepared for despite the disappointment and surprise surrounding his assignment.
“I felt like I played well last year and had a good few days of camp, but that's how it is in the business and they were honest with me about wanting to give younger guys a shot,” he said. “For me it’s the same thing, I have to come down here, skate hard, create chances and see what happens. I can’t just come down here and not do anything.”
The Checkers, already shorthanded due to NHL recalls and injuries, can use whatever help they can get after losing another player on Thursday. Following the game, Daniels said that forward A.J. Jenks, who appeared to injure his hand or his wrist in the first period and did not return, would be out “for a while.”
Charlotte continues its three-game home stand on Sunday afternoon against the Norfolk Admirals.
The Checkers’ last regulation loss was against San Antonio on Dec. 30 … The Checkers were out-shot 18-3 in the second period … Riley Nash and Brett Sutter, who both returned from Carolina’s training camp this week, had two assists … Shugg’s four-game point streak is an AHL career high … In addition to scoring the shorthanded goal, the Checkers were 5-for-5 on the penalty kill … Forwards Matthew Pistilli and David Rutherford and defenseman Tommi Kivisto were healthy scratches for Charlotte ... Fans voted Jordan the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game.
North Carolina Education Lottery Three Stars
1. Joakim Andersson (Grand Rapids) 2. Michal Jordan 3. Landon Ferraro (Grand Rapids)