The games, which mark the first time the Stars have visited Charlotte all season, start a crucial stretch that will determine the South Division champion. Charlotte currently trails Texas by three points (with one more game played) with five head-to-head meetings included in the Checkers’ final 15 regular-season games. Four of those will take place in Charlotte, with the Checkers having gone 0-1-2 in three previous trips to Texas. The teams have not played each other since Texas took a 3-1 decision on Dec. 29.
The games kick off Old-Time Hockey Weekend, which includes special jerseys for both games against Texas, an appearance by the Hanson Brothers at tonight's game and a special screening of the movie “Slap Shot” on Saturday.
With professional debutant Danny Biega suffering an injury in his third shift during Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to Norfolk, the Checkers injured list has now hit a staggering 10 players, which, combined with others currently plying their trade with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, leaves the team more than a little shorthanded.
Even after two more days to heal, it appears that none of those players are prepared to return tonight. Of the 10, only A.J. Jenks and Jerome Samson practiced Thursday but have not yet been cleared for contact.
As a result, the Checkers will add at least one more player from the ECHL ranks to replace Biega on defense, and perhaps two if Brett Bellemore, who did not practice Thursday and is considered day-to-day, cannot play tonight. That means there will be at least 12 players in tonight’s lineup and 15 on the overall roster who began the season in a lower league.
Those circumstances dictate that nothing short of the solid efforts from the Checkers’ last two games, both losses, and perhaps a little more chemistry from a patchwork lineup will be needed to secure a victory tonight.
“We need to just keep doing what we’re doing,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “We’re not a team that’s going to go end to end to score. Our game right now is to grind it out and get those dirty goals.”
“With the guys that are here now we’re a workmanlike team, and we’re going to have to work to get our chances,” said center Jeremy Welsh.
With the injury bug and the end of the NHL lockout happening since the Checkers’ last meeting with the Stars, only six players from that Dec. 29 match-up (or perhaps seven if defenseman Tommi Kivisto gets the call from Florida) will play tonight. Nine are in the NHL and four are injured.
With the team continuing to receive at least one day off around each game despite an otherwise crowded March schedule, goalie John Muse, who made a season-high 35 saves on Wednesday, could get his sixth consecutive start in goal. Update: The Checkers have received scoring leader Chris Terry from Carolina and defenseman Tommi Kivsto from Florida. Read more
The Stars are coming off a 4-3 win over Abbotsford on Wednesday, one that snapped a season-long, five-game winless streak (0-3-2). Prior to that now-ended slide, the Stars were one of the hottest teams in the AHL since the calendar turned to 2013, having won 17 of 22 games (17-2-3) to storm to the top of the Western Conference standings.
"They’re still rolling, and I’ve said from day one that they’re one of the best teams in the league,” said Daniels, whose team suffered two 12-round shootout losses to Texas before losing in regulation for the first time in the last meeting.
Matt Fraser, who is tied for second in the AHL with 28 goals, is not surprisingly among the Stars’ hottest players of late. The undrafted second-year pro who scored his first NHL goal for Dallas this season has scored six goals in his last five games, giving him 13 more goals than the Stars’ No. 2 goal scorer, Colton Sceviour. Sceviour, who recorded his first NHL point in his only game with the Stars this season, has nine points (2g, 7a) in his last six games.
Of players in the AHL last time the Stars faced Charlotte, forwards Cody Eakin, Antoine Roussel, Reilly Smith and Tomas Vincour and defensemen Jordie Benn, Brenden Dillon and Jamie Oleksiak are now playing for Dallas in the NHL. Tom Wandell, an NHL veteran waived by the Stars, has four assists in eight games for Texas.
Goalies Cristopher Nilstorp and Jack Campbell have split the Texas net this season, though Nilstrop, who has the better statistics of the two with a 2.27 goals-against average (9th AHL) and .909 save percentage, has played in each of the last four games. The Swedish netminder gave way to Campbell, a first-round pick in 2010, after suffering an injury midway through Wednesday’s game.
With the Stars recalling Tyler Beskorwany from ECHL Idaho on Thursday, the Checkers will likely see Campbell, who was pulled from his last start after allowing four goals on 15 shots to Chicago on March 5.
Of the 21 players on the Checkers' current roster healthy enough to play tonight's game, only nine began the season at the AHL level with the Checkers. The other 16 players from the team's opening night roster from Oct. 13 are either injured (six - Zac Dalpe, Sean Dolan, Marc-Andre Gragnani, A.J. Jenks, Michal Jordan, and Jerome Samson) in the NHL (nine - Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk, Dan Ellis, Justin Faulk, Riley Nash, Justin Peters, Bobby Sanguinetti, Tim Wallace) or in junior hockey (Victor Rask).
Of the Checker's 185 goals scored this season, only 68 of those (36.8 percent) were scored by players available for tonight's game, with the just-reassigned Chris Terry accounting for 22. The Checkers currently have only three of their top 15 scorers at their disposal: Chris Terry (first with 46 points), Brett Sutter (fourth with 34) and Jeremy Welsh (t-9th with 21).
A total of 15 players have played for both the Checkers and Hurricanes since the NHL season began in January. Carolina currently has eight players on its roster who started the season with Charlotte, with another, Zach Boychuk, currently playing for Nashville after spending time with the Hurricanes in January.
With 15 games to play, the fourth-seeded Checkers currently have a 10-point lead over ninth-place Abbotsford in the Western Conference, with Abbotsford having played three more games. The Checkers are also just three points behind Texas, which has a game in hand, for the South Division lead and a guaranteed spot in the top three.
The Checkers have 75 points through 61 games this season, putting them three points ahead of last season's total at the same point in their schedule. The 2011-12 Checkers would go on to win just six of their last 15 games (6-8-1) to miss the playoffs by a single point.
PK is OK
The Checkers, who recently overtook Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the league's best penalty-killing percentage (86.6 percent), have allowed just two power-play goals in their last 11 games dating back to Feb. 16. During that time, they have killed 43 of 45 power plays (95.6 percent).
Charlotte, which has the league's second-best disciplinary record with an average of 12.7 penalty minutes per game, has been in shorthanded situations 238 times this season, which is tied for the seventh-fewest in the AHL.
Along with Springfield, the Checkers are one of only two AHL teams to rank in the top 10 in goals per game (8th - 3.03), goals allowed per game 9th- 2.59), power play (5th - 20.6 percent) and penalty killing (1st - 86.6 percent).
Eight of the Checkers' next 11 games, including six at home, will be played against South Division opponents - a run will conclude the team's slate of divisional games this season. The Checkers are 13-8-3 against the South Division this season and currently trail first-place Texas, who they play five times in the next five weeks, by just three points with one more game played.
The South is currently the only division in the AHL that has three teams with 70 or more points (Texas - 78; Charlotte - 75; Houston - 70).
Matt Marquardt has goals and points in each of his last two games (March 10-13; 2g, 0a)
Jerome Samson has points in each of his last two games (Jan. 4-6; 1g, 1a)
Danny Biega (March 13) - out tonight
Sean Dolan (March 10) - missed one game
Luke Pither (March 10) - missed one game
Michal Jordan (March 10) - missed one game
Marc-Andre Gragnani (March 9) - missed two games
Justin Shugg (March 4) - missed four games
Zac Dalpe (March 1) - missed six games
Andreas Nodl (March 1) - missed six games, out for season
A.J. Jenks (Jan. 17) - missed 20 games
Jerome Samson (Jan. 6) - missed 25 games
March 15 - (LW) Chris Terry reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
March 15 - (D) Tommi Kivisto recalled to Charlotte from Florida (ECHL)
March 13 - (D) Danny Biega signed to amateur tryout contract
March 12 - (LW) C.J. Severyn signed to professional tryout contract
March 12 - (C) Casey Pierro-Zabotel signed to professional tryout contract
March 10 - (D) Beau Schmitz recalled to Charlotte from Florida (ECHL)
March 8 - (C) Jeremy Welsh reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
March 8 - (C) Brett Sutter reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
March 8 - (LW) Chris Terry recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte