The Checkers hadn’t yet been in a position where they needed their goaltender to steal a game for them, but Dan Ellis nearly did just that.
In an otherwise forgettable game atypical of the team’s hot start to the season, the veteran netminder made 41 saves to keep things close in an eventual 2-1 loss to the Chicago Wolves on Tuesday night. Chris Terry opened the scoring for Charlotte before two second-period Chicago goals by Steve Pinizzotto knocked the home team back to 7-3-1 on the season.
The final score was perhaps flattering to Charlotte, which couldn’t muster any of the sustained pressure that allowed it to skate away as 4-1 winners from the teams’ first meeting on Sunday, which marked the Checkers’ first game back following a nine-game road swing to start the season.
“We had no legs,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “Whether it was the road trip or what, we looked tired and we weren’t in it.”
Despite that, the game came right down to the final few shifts, with Zac Dalpe hitting the crossbar with just over three minutes to go and a few redirections trickling just wide of Chicago netminder Eddie Lack, who improved to 5-2-0 all-time against Charlotte. That the Checkers, who had previously not trailed after two periods all season, came so close to tying the game is to the credit of Ellis, an experienced NHL goalie who joined the team on a professional tryout contract just prior to training camp.
“Luckily Dan was the one player that showed up to play tonight, and without him it could have easily been 6-1 or 7-1,” said Daniels. “We made a late push, but without Dan Ellis we wouldn’t have been in a position to make that push.”
Though he made a steady stream of saves throughout the night, including 18 in the second period, Ellis’ finest work came in the third when he weathered an early attempt by Chicago to put the game away. After stopping a breakaway with some help from defenseman Rasmus Rissanen, who cleared the rebound off the goal line just in time, Ellis also stood tall during the Wolves’ final power play with eight minutes to go.
“He was unbelievable,” said Terry. “You can see why he was an NHL goalie because he kept us in it.”
Ellis, who won the AHL’s Player of the Week award on Oct. 29 after posting a shutout streak of 144 minutes over the span of three games, has made 35 or more saves three times this season, with Tuesday’s total his most yet. For a player who missed the second half of last season with a groin injury, he’s reporting no ill effects.
“I’ve felt good,” he said. “It’s good that there have been games where you have a big workload, and those games are sometimes easier to play in because you get so much action.”
Pinizzotto, who first rose to attention for a roughing penalty that left the Checkers’ Michal Jordan momentarily dazed along the boards early in the second period, proved to be the only player who could solve Ellis. Both goals came on rebounds, the first when Brett Sterling drew both Checkers defensemen to leave him wide open, and the second when he set up Anton Rodin for a chance that forced Ellis to make an excellent point-blank save, only for Pinizotto to then skate in unimpeded for the tap-in.
Those goals erased an early lead created by Terry, who was playing his first game following a three-game suspension for elbowing.
“I thought he was a little bit rusty, but that will come with time,” said Daniels of Terry, who redirected a low Brett Sutter shot from the point past Lack at the 12:44 mark of the opening period. “He’s a big part of what we’re doing here.”
On that play, both Terry and Sutter extended their point streaks to four games, while Bobby Sanguinetti, who picked up the secondary helper on his drop pass to Sutter, now has three assists in his last two. However, the team’s most notable streak came to a close, with Drayson Bowman having to settle for a team-record, eight-game run.
Given the way his team looked in this game, Daniels decided to change his previous plans and cancel Wednesday’s practice, instead choosing to keep his team fresher for a back-to-back set against the Peoria Rivermen starting Thursday.
“We’ll keep them away from the rink tomorrow,” he said. “If we didn’t play for another week we’d probably be skating a little bit because we didn’t skate tonight.”
“The general consensus is to play the first nine on the road is pretty tough, and then come back and only really have a few practices days at home,” said Terry. “Guys are still settling into Charlotte that haven't been here, but I think a few days of rest will go a long way."
Chicago had two additional goals disallowed, one due to interference on Ellis in the second period and another due to a hand pass in the third … With this game the only contest on the AHL’s Tuesday slate, the Checkers and Chicago are now tied for most points in the AHL (15) … Prior to Tuesday’s game, Bowman’s last game without a goal was on Oct. 14. His streak was one of just seven eight-game streaks posted in the AHL since 2005-06 season … Defenseman Justin Faulk’s five-game point streak (2g, 8a) also came to an end … Terry now has four goals in his last four games to go along with one assist … The teams were a combined 0-for-7 on the power play … Chicago and Charlotte will play twice more this season, with both games taking place in Chicago ... Fans voted Ellis as the Community Blood Center of the Carolinas Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game.
North Carolina Education Lottery Three Stars
1. Steve Pinozzotto (Chicago)
2. Dan Ellis
3. Eddie Lack (Chicago)