Saturday’s 4-0 win over the Rivermen improved the Checkers to 5-1-1, putting them into a tie with Rochester for most points in the AHL. All of those games have come during the team’s franchise-record-tying, nine-game road swing, which concludes Wednesday in Milwaukee, setting up the home opener at Time Warner Cable Arena on Sunday, Nov. 4.
With a win tonight, the Checkers have another opportunity to win on three consecutive nights for the first time in team history, having narrowly missed that opportunity to do so by losing their third game last week. Charlotte has now won four straight against Peoria since its last loss on March 20 of last season.
On Saturday, a veteran and a rookie led the Checkers to their largest margin of victory this season and largest since their previous game in Peoria, a 6-1 win on April 13. Prior to 32-year-old NHL veteran Dan Ellis’s 27-save shutout and 24-year-old rookie Jeremy Welsh’s first two professional goals, Charlotte’s previous four wins had all come by two or fewer goals.
Drayson Bowman also remained red hot for the Checkers, tying Zac Dalpe’s team record by scoring a goal for the fifth consecutive game, putting him into a three-way tie for most goals in the AHL (six). Appropriately, Dalpe rounded out the scoring with his second goal of the season to complete the win and continue the best start in the Checkers’ three-year history in the AHL.
With Ellis having appeared in each of the team’s two games this weekend, including a perfect relief appearance on Friday that helped the Checkers earn a come-from-behind victory in Grand Rapids, it would appear to be Justin Peters’ turn to get the start on Sunday unless coach Jeff Daniels elects to go with the hot hand. Peters made just five saves on nine shots Friday, though he certainly did not get much help from a Checkers’ defense that was sluggish in the early going.
Nineteen-year-old rookie center Victor Rask has a good chance of getting back in the lineup today, as the Checkers have held him out of the middle game of both three-in-three sets this season. Rask has four points during an active three-game point streak (1g, 3a).
Joining Rask as healthy scratches on Saturday were forwards Justin Soryal and Jared Staal and defenseman Justin Krueger.
Update: Chris Terry will miss the game while serving the first of a three-game suspension. More info here.
With Charlotte’s 6-1 victory from last season, one that effectively ended their playoff hopes in a must-win game down the stretch last season, fresh in their minds, the Rivermen were again unable to stop the Checkers from recording a convincing win on their home ice on Sunday. Dating back to last season, the Checkers are now 4-1 all-time in Peoria.
“We didn’t come to compete right off the hump tonight,” Rivermen coach Dave Allison told the Peoria Journal Star. “We tip-toed into the game and it hurt us.”
Though that game was the first time it had been shut out this season, Peoria has struggled offensively in the early going, scoring two or fewer goals in all but one of its six games to rank last in the AHL with an average of 1.67 goals per game. The Rivermen also went 0-4 on the power play against the Checkers, dropping them to 29th in the league at 4.3 percent.
Also playing the middle game of a three-in-three set, the Rivermen handed goalie Mike McKenna his first start of the season on Saturday and are likely to go back to workhorse Jake Allen in Sunday’s rematch.
The Checkers' 5-1-1 start (11 points) marks the best start in the team's three AHL seasons, eclipsing the 4-2-1 record (nine points) the team posted in its first seven games last season. Despite being the only team in the league that has yet to play a home game, the Checkers currently lead the South Division by two points and hold the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. League-wide, the Checkers are tied with Rochester for most overall points, with Rochester having played one more game.
Ellis Shuts the Door
Goalie Dan Ellis made 27 saves to record his 10th career AHL shutout against the Rivermen on Saturday, giving him a 1.07 goals-against average (3rd AHL) and .967 save percentage (2nd AHL) in four appearances this season. Ellis, an NHL veteran who signed a professional tryout contract with the Checkers last month, now has a shutout streak of 144:21 dating back to Marcus Kruger's first-period goal in Rockford on Oct. 20. Charlotte has earned a point in each of Ellis' four appearances with the team (3-0-1), including a 12-round shootout loss in his debut on Oct. 14.
Forward Drayson Bowman has scored in each of the Checkers' last five games, including a two-goal performance in Rockford on Oct. 20, to tie a team record set by Zac Dalpe during the 2010-11 season. He is now in a three-way tie for first in the AHL with six goals, with his five-game streak tied for the longest in the league this season. During his streak, which sets a new career high, Bowman has recorded a power-play goal in all but his most recent game on Saturday, giving him an AHL-best four power-play goals.
With nine and eight points, respectively, defensemen Justin Faulk and Marc-Andre Gragnani are two of the Checkers' top three scorers. Faulk, a member of the NHL's All-Rookie team last season, recorded an assist on Saturday to give him six points (1g, 5a) in three games since returning from an upper-body injury. On Friday in Grand Rapids, Gragnani tied team records for most assists and most points in a single game (four), marking the third time a Checkers player has recorded a four-assist game and eighth time a Checkers has recorded a four-point game.
Faulk, 20, is now tied for 10th in AHL scoring and is just one point off the league lead. He and Gragnani are tied for third in the AHL with eight assists, just one fewer than Houston's Marco Scandella and Rochester's Cody Hodgson. Gragnani is tied for the league lead in power-play points with seven and has sole possession of the league lead with seven power-play assists.
The Checkers' went 2-6 on the power play in Peoria on Saturday, continuing a streak of scoring at least one power-play goal in all seven of their games this season. Charlotte now leads the AHL with a 33.3 percent success rate on the man advantage (13 goals on 39 chances) and boasts some of the league's top individual performers in Drayson Bowman (most goals - 4) and Marc-Andre Gragnani (most assists and tied for most points - 7). In Grand Rapids on Friday, Charlotte's four power-play goals tied a franchise best for a single game, which was set twice during the 2010-11 season.
Checkers forward Zach Boychuk has scored points in six of the team's seven games (4g, 4a). Though he did not find the score sheet in Rockford on Oct. 20, he took a game-high eight shots on goal that tied his career high set last season. Now in his fourth professional season, Boychuk, a first-round pick in 2008, leads all Checkers forwards in scoring.
The Checkers are now 5-1-1 through the first seven games of their franchise-record-tying, nine-game road swing to start the season. Already the only AHL team that has yet to play a home game, they must wait a further seven days before their home opener against Chicago on Sunday, Nov. 4. With two games to go, the Checkers have already surpassed their point total from their only other nine-game swing, having gone 5-4-0 in October and November of last season.
The Checkers, who play three games in three nights seven times this season, are in the midst of their second such set of the season and second in as many weeks. Including Friday's win in Grand Rapids and Saturday's win in Peoria, they are now 29-20-4 all-time in games that are part of a three-in-three set, with a record of 9-7-2 in Game One, 13-3-2 in Game Two and 7-10-0 in Game Three. During their first three-in-three last week, the team went 2-1-0, which came up one point shy of their best finish of 2-0-1 set three times during the 2010-11 season.
Drayson Bowman has goals and points in each of his last five games (Oct. 19-27; 6g, 1a)
Victor Rask has points in each of his last three games (Oct. 19-26; 1g, 3a)
Zach Boychuk has points in each of his last three games (Oct. 21-27; 2g, 1a)
Jerome Samson has points in each of his last three games (Oct. 21-27; 1g, 2a)
Chris Terry has points in each of his last three games (Oct. 21-27; 3g, 1a)
Justin Faulk has assists and points in each of his last three games (Oct. 21-27; 1g, 5a)
Dan Ellis has won each of his last three games (Oct. 20-27) and has earned points in each of his last four (Oct. 14-27; 3-0-1)
Dan Ellis has not allowed a goal in 144:21 of game action, dating back to Marcus Kruger's first-period goal in Rockford on Oct. 20.