The former Midwest Division rivals have already faced each other twice this season, with the Checkers winning by scores of 4-0 and 6-0 on Oct. 27 and 28, respectively. Though Charlotte has since moved on to the South Division, the teams will still meet each other a total of eight times this season.
After the games against Peoria, the Checkers depart for a four-game road trip but will then begin a 10-game home stand, their longest of the season, when they return following the Thanksgiving break.
The Checkers are coming off their most ineffective performance of the season, a 2-1 loss to Chicago on Tuesday that allowed the Wolves to tie them for the AHL’s top spot with 15 points. With 41 saves, goalie Dan Ellis prevented the score from being more lopsided as the Checkers didn’t seem to have the same amount of energy as in previous games.
“We weren’t sharp,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “We just couldn’t skate and we looked tired out there. We lost all the foot races to loose pucks and all the battles that you need to win a game.”
As a result, Daniels on Wednesday gave his team its first true day off since training camp started in late September. Every day since then had at least some form of team activity, whether it be a practice, a game or some travel.
“The general consensus is to play the first nine on the road is pretty tough,” said forward Chris Terry, who has five points during a four-game point streak. “Guys are still settling into Charlotte that haven't been here, but I think a few days of rest will go a long way."
Despite Ellis’ heroics, Justin Peters, who hasn’t been too shabby himself, will likely return to the Checkers’ goal tonight. Since giving up four goals on nine shots in Grand Rapids on Oct. 26, Peters has allowed just one goal in two subsequent starts, stopping 46 of 47 shots, including his eighth career AHL shutout.
Provided he can shake off an illness that has affected a different Checker in each of the team’s last three games (Bobby Sanguinetti and Marc-Andre Gragnai have each missed one game apiece in the last week), Riley Nash should be set to return to action tonight.
Going back to last season’s series and continuing with the first two meetings this season, the Checkers have enjoyed a great deal of recent success against the Rivermen. Dating back to March 21 of last season and including the back-to-back shutouts two weeks ago, the Checkers have won five consecutive games against Peoria, out-scoring the Rivermen by a 26-4 margin during that time.
The two losses to the Checkers this season marked the first time the Rivermen had been shut out in consecutive games on home ice and were also the start of an active four-game losing streak. The Rivermen have since fallen to Lake Erie (in a shootout) and Milwaukee at home, the latter of which marked yet another shutout for the AHL’s No. 30 offense (1.44 goals per game).
A big reason for the lack of goal production has been the team’s power play, which has just one goal in 36 chances this season to rank last in the league at 2.8 percent. That goal was scored by T.J. Hensick, a three-time AHL All-Star who is currently tied with Derek Nesbitt for the team scoring lead with five points (2g, 3a) in nine games.
In goal, Jake Allen has appeared in eight of the team’s nine games, posting a 3.21 goals-against average and .890 save percentage. The Checkers scored six times on Allen in their most recent meeting, with backup Mike McKenna allowing four one night earlier.
The Checkers' 7-3-1 start (15 points) is the best start in the team's three AHL seasons, narrowly eclipsing the 6-4-1 record that the team posted in its first 11 games last season. Charlotte is now tied with Chicago for the best record in the league and in the Western Conference and holds a three-point lead over Houston in the South Division.
End of a Streak
Forward Drayson Bowman did not find the back of the net against Chicago on Tuesday, ending his team-record goal streak at eight games (9g). Bowman's streak was one of seven eight-game streaks in the AHL since the 2005-06 season and was just one game short of the longest streak from last season, set by Norfolk's Tyler Johnson. With nine total goals in 11 games, Bowman ranks second in the league and is already over halfway to his AHL career high of 17 goals set during his rookie season with Albany in 2009-10. He still has an active seven-game goal streak on the road.
Move that Puck
In Justin Faulk (13 points), Marc-Andre Gragnani (nine points) and Bobby Sanguinetti (seven points), the Checkers are the only team in the AHL with three defenseman that have seven or more points each. Faulk, 20, ranks tied for second in the league in points and leads the league in assists (11), while Gragnani ranks tied for third in assists (nine) and first in power-play assists (seven). Sanguinetti, who finished last season with 44 points in his last 44 games, has three assists in his last two games.
Despite scoring just once in their last eight chances, Charlotte leads the AHL with a 30.8 percent success rate on the man advantage (16 goals on 52 chances), which is over five points higher than second-place Manchester (25.6 percent).
Though the team has had several contributors (10 different Checkers have scored at least one power-play goal, at least two more than any other AHL team), it also features some of the league's top individual performers on the man advantage. Drayson Bowman and Zach Boychuk are tied for the league lead in goals (4), Marc-Andre Gragnani leads the league in assists (7) and Boychuk is tied for the league lead in total points (8).
There have been just 12 total goals (for and against) scored in the first periods of Checkers games this season. Meanwhile, there have been 26 total goals in their second periods and 28 total goals in their thirds. No other team has scored as many goals in any period than the Checkers' 18 third-period goals.
A Big Plus
The Checkers' boast three players who are among the league's leaders in plus/minus in various categories. Forward Jerome Samson's +9 rating is tied for fourth among all skaters, Victor Rask's +7 is second among AHL rookies and Brett Bellemore's +8 is tied for third among all defensemen.
Chris Terry has points in each of his last four games (Oct. 21-Nov.6; 4g, 1a)
Brett Sutter has points in each of his last four games (Oct. 28-Nov. 6; 5g, 1a)
Bobby Sanguinetti has assists and points in each of his last two games (Nov. 4-7; 0g, 3a)
Justin Peters has wins in each of his last two games (Oct. 28-Nov. 4)
Jerome Samson is one point away from 100 as a Checker
Zach Boychuk is one goal away from 50 as a Checker