The Checkers haven’t had much trouble breaking down the AHL’s best defensive team this season.
Zac Dalpe (2g, 2a) and Brett Sutter (1g, 3a) tied a franchise record and their own career highs with four points apiece as the Checkers began a back-to-back set in Abbotsford with a 5-1 win on Friday. Matt Beca and Luke Pither had the other goals for Charlotte, which got 28 saves from goalie Justin Peters.
Both of Dalpe’s goals came shorthanded, making him the first Checker to record multiple shorthanded goals in the same game in the team’s three-year AHL history. He also became the first player to score three shorthanded goals in a season for the Checkers, who finished the night 7-for-7 on the penalty kill.
The win, the Checkers’ fourth in their last five games, gave them a 2-1-0 lead in the four-game season series with Abbotsford that concludes Saturday night. It also gave the Checkers 13 goals in three games against the Heat, who entered the game allowing an AHL-best 2.33 goals per game.
Continuing a theme seen throughout the season, it wasn’t until the third period that the Checkers began to pull away, scoring three times to give them a plus-28 goal differential in third periods this season. Dalpe started that run just one minute in with his second goal of the night, a low shot that beat goalie Barry Brust after Sutter had sprung him in alone for the second time during the game.
That goal was actually the third time that Sutter and Dalpe had connected on the night, with Sutter finishing a slap pass from Dalpe to tie the game at 1-1 on a first-period power play. However, their prettiest goal came midway through the second, when Sutter rushed into the zone shorthanded and drew two defenders before sending a no-look drop pass to Dalpe, who outwaited a sprawled Brust for his 18th goal of the season.
The two would again connect early in the third period, with Beca, a forward who has spent the bulk of the season in the ECHL, collecting the loose change of a blocked shot attempt by Sutter for his second career AHL goal to make the score 4-1 in the third period.
The Checkers have now had 12 four-point games in their history, including six this season. Sutter accomplished the feat with a four-assist performance just two games earlier, giving him eight points (1g, 7a) in his last three games.
Pither concluded the scoring midway through the third period on another nice goal, a tic-tac-toe passing play involving linemates Justin Shugg and Chris Terry.
Though one might not know it from the 5-1 score, Peters had to be at his best early in the game with the Checkers being out-shot by a wide margin. Two of his best saves came early in the first period with the game still scoreless, while he also held the fort while the Heat came out with more energy to start period two.
The veteran netminder was also a large part of the team’s successful penalty kill, making several difficult stops through traffic look routine. Peters, who has started 14 of the Checkers’ last 17 games, entered the contest tied for fourth in the league with 19 wins and ranked 13th with a 2.41 goals-against average. The only goal against him came on a two-on-one, with Roman Horak’s pass making it through defenseman Bobby Raymond and onto the stick of Greg Nemisz for the back-door finish.
On the other end, Brust began the night ranked third in the AHL with a 2.10 goals-against average. In two meetings this season, the Checkers have scored 10 goals against the 29-year-old, who was Peters’ Western Conference teammate at January’s AHL All-Star Classic.
The result extended the Heat’s winless streak to six games (0-5-1), its longest of the season.
Dalpe’s four-point game was the third of his career and first since accomplishing the feat in back-to-back games on Jan. 21 and 23, 2011 … The Checkers’ six four-point games this season were recorded by Sutter (2), Dalpe, Gragnani, Riley Nash and Tim Wallace … Dalpe had a game-high five shots on goal … Marc-Andre Gragnani took sole possession of third place in the AHL with 16 power-play assists. He has five assists in his last four games … Sutter’s goal, his 13th of the season, tied his career high set last season … The Checkers were 1-for-4 on the power play, making them 12-for-28 (42.9 percent) in their last five road games … Brody Sutter played his first AHL game of the season … David Rutherford was a healthy scratch, while fellow forwards A.J. Jenks and Jerome Samson missed the game due to injury.
North Carolina Education Lottery Three Stars
1. Zac Dalpe
2. Brett Sutter
3. Justin Peters