For the first time in three years, the Checkers can feel good about their start.
Justin Peters made 27 saves to earn first-star honors as Charlotte left Houston with a 3-1 victory in their regular-season opener on Saturday. Tim Wallace, Chris Terry and Jerome Samson scored for the Checkers, which won on opening night for the first time as an AHL franchise.
Peters, a 26-year-old veteran beginning his seventh professional season, would have had a shutout if not for a bizarre bounce that allowed talented Houston rookie Jonas Brodin, a defenseman chosen 10th overall in the 2011 draft, to make it 2-1 midway through the third period. Brodin’s shot from the right point went off the back of Checkers defenseman Rasmus Rissanen, who has pushed his man well outside the goal crease, and bounced high into the air and behind Peters.
Other than that, it was a perfect showing for the goalie previously expected to start the season in Carolina prior to the NHL’s work stoppage. Dating back to last season, Peters is 4-1-0 in his last five starts in a Checkers uniform, having given up one or fewer goals in three of those games.
Peters was particularly sharp as the Checkers took three consecutive penalties in the final 13 minutes of the third period, though he had plenty of help from his teammates. Despite having to weather the storm of an energized home team sensing a great opportunity to tie the game immediately after Brodin’s goal, the Checkers allowed a total of just six shots in the third period, effectively shutting down a host of talented Aeros forwards.
At the end of the night, the Checkers’ penalty kill that returns all of the key players from last season’s unit that finished seventh in the AHL was a perfect six-for-six on the night.
That capped off a wild third period that featured all four goals of the evening, beginning with back-to-back strikes by Wallace and Terry just 1:23 apart. Wallace, a newcomer who also scored the team’s first goal of the preseason, first scored by corralling a rebound of a Zach Boychuk shot and roofing it over outstretched Houston goalie Matt Hackett just over five minutes into the final frame.
Not to be outdone, Terry, who briefly left the game after being shaken up by a blindside hit in the second period, found a rebound of a Justin Faulk point shot sitting near the goal line and stuffed it past Hackett, a former Plymouth Whalers teammate, for the 2-0 lead.
Faulk, a 20-year-old who made the NHL’s All-Rookie team last season, assisted on both goals, giving him eight points (2g, 6a) in 13 career regular-season AHL contests. He also fired seven shots on goal, more than any other player on the ice.
Samson, who has scored at least 20 goals in all five of his previous AHL seasons, added an empty-net goal to seal the win with 56 seconds remaining.
The Checkers now head to Texas to take on the Stars at 8 p.m. on Sunday. That game concludes the first leg of the team’s record-tying, nine-game road swing that will take it up to its home opener at Time Warner Cable Arena on Nov. 4.
All three of the Checkers’ regular-season openers have come on the road … Saturday’s game was Houston’s home opener, one of four home openers the Checkers will attend as the visiting team this season … Charlotte out-shot Houston 38-28 … Checkers forward Zac Dalpe missed the game due to illness … Forwards A.J. Jenks and Justin Soryal and defenseman Justin Krueger were healthy scratches for Charlotte … Forwards Wallace and Jeremy Welsh and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani all made their Checkers debuts, while center Victor Rask made his professional debut for Charlotte … Dating back to last season, Peters has started each of the Checkers’ last five games.
1. Justin Peters
2. Justin Brodin (Houston)
3. Matt Hackett (Houston)