The Checkers continue their latest three-in-three weekend with a match-up against the Texas Stars in Austin tonight.
After rallying from two goals down to win 4-3 in San Antonio last night, the Checkers are on a three-game winning streak that has given them a five-point lead in the South Division, including a 10-point cushion over the Stars. Texas is one of just four teams to prevent the Checkers from taking the full two points in their 14 games this season, having won in the ninth round of a shootout during the season’s opening weekend on Oct. 14.
The teams will end up meeting a total of eight times this season, though the Stars, who claimed a 3-1-0 edge in last season’s series, will not travel to Charlotte until mid-March.
After a sluggish first 40 minutes in which the Checkers looked rusty from their full week between games, all it took was five minutes for the league’s best offense to turn things around.
Charlotte scored three goals in the first 4:51 of the third period, including two by Zac Dalpe, to go ahead for good against the Rampage on Friday. The team now averages 3.86 goals per game, most in the league, and has scored at least four goals in nine of its last 10 games.
The goals by Dalpe gave him five on the season, making him the fifth Checker to reach that milestone. He also has 12 points in 13 games to rank third on the team behind Justin Faulk and Zach Boychuk. Meanwhile, Nicolas Blanchard’s shorthanded goal was the fourth of his career and the team’s second of the season, with Jerome Samson tacking on the winner for 100th point of his Checkers career.
In winning their third game in a row, the Checkers also kept a handful of individual streaks going on Friday. Chris Terry, who set up Dalpe’s second goal on a two-on-none break, now has points in seven straight games (6g, 3a), one shy of his personal record set twice last season. Faulk, who set up Blanchard’s breakaway goal and is now tied for third in the league with 12 assists, has helpers in five straight road games (2g, 7a), which is the longest streak of any player in the AHL this season.
Justin Peters, who has won his last four starts, will likely get the night off tonight in favor of Dan Ellis, who made 39 saves in regulation and overtime and seven more in the shootout last month. Ellis ranks fourth in the AHL with a .940 save percentage and is tied for ninth with a 1.94 goals-against average.
Defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani will remain out with a lower-body injury. On Friday, forwards A.J. Jenks and Justin Soryal were healthy scratches for Charlotte.
Like Charlotte, the Stars are also coming off a win against San Antonio. Goalie Cristopher Nilstorp made 21 saves in a 3-0 shutout of the Rampage in Austin on Thursday, with the Stars taking Friday off to prepare for today’s game against the Checkers.
That win was the second in a row for the Stars, who previously endured a four-game winless streak. A win tonight would get them back to the .500 mark for the first time since Oct. 20, when back-to-back losses to Houston erased a 2-0-0 start that included the shootout win over the Checkers.
Thursday’s shutout was an excellent sign for the Stars, who had previously been unable to get solid goaltending from the duo of Nilstorp and rookie Jack Campbell, who had split games evenly this season. Campbell, a first-round pick in 2010, did not dress Thursday, with the team instead electing to use ECHL call-up Josh Robinson in the backup role. After his shutout, Nilstorp leads the team with a .887 save percentage.
Forward Cody Eakin, a former Hershey Bear, leads the team with 10 points (6g, 4a) in 12 games. He scored two goals against Charlotte last month, including one shorthanded, giving him four goals in his last three meetings with the Checkers. Tomas Vincour, who played 47 games with the NHL’s Dallas Stars last season, is one point behind, while Matt Fraser, who finished second in the AHL with 37 goals as a rookie last season, has five this season.
The Stars rank 30th in the AHL in terms of penalty killing (73.6 percent), putting them at a clear disadvantage against Charlotte’s No. 1 power play. However, Eakin is tied for first in the league with his two shorthanded markers.
In Drayson Bowman (t-1st, 10 goals), Zach Boychuk (t-3rd, nine goals) and Chris Terry (t-9th, seven goals), the Checkers boast three of the AHL's top 18 goal scorers. Together, those three have accounted for just under half (48 percent) of the team's league-leading 54 goals.
In terms of goals per game, the Checkers are first in the AHL with an average of 3.86 and have scored at least four goals in nine of their last 10 outings. They also own two of the best period-by-period marks in the league, as their 24 third-period goals are the most by any team in any period and their 22 second-period goals are tied for second-highest.
Together with their 5th-ranked defense (an average of 2.50 goals allowed per game), the Checkers own the league's third-best goal differential at +19, trailing only Abbotsford's and Springfield's +23.
Despite playing more road games (10) than all but one other AHL team (Lake Erie), the Checkers have taken 15 of a possible 20 points in those games, giving them a .750 percentage that is tied for the second-best mark in the league. Only Syracuse, off to a 6-0-1 start on the road, has taken a higher percentage of possible points.
Peters Joins the Offense
Goalie Justin Peters earned his third assist of the season on Friday, the most he's earned during any of his six professional seasons. Peters now has more helpers than a handful of his teammates, including Drayson Bowman, Jeremy Welsh and Tim Wallace, who all see time on the power play. Peters, who has won each of his last four starts, has now tied the Checkers' single-season record for assists by a goalie set by Mike Murphy in 2010-11. Peters, who once scored a goal in junior hockey, now has eight career assists at the AHL level.
Defenseman Justin Faulk, who made the NHL's All-Rookie Team at 19 years of age last season, currently ranks tied for third in the AHL with 12 assists. Together with his three goals, that has him tied with four other players for fifth in overall league scoring with 15 points. Faulk has assists in five consecutive road games (2g, 7a), the longest such streak posted in the AHL this season.
Sharing the Wealth
The Checkers are one of just two AHL teams (Portland) with five players that have scored at least five goals (Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk, Zac Dalpe, Brett Sutter and Chris Terry). Add team scoring leader Justin Faulk to that group, and the Chekers are one of four teams (Grand Rapids, Lake Erie, Rochester) that have at least six different players that have hit double digits in points. With the exception of Justin Soryal, who has played just one game this season, every player who has suited up for the Checkers in 2012-13, including goalies Dan Ellis and Justin Peters, has recorded at least one point.
Boychuk in the Clutch
Zach Boychuk's overtime goal on Thursday was his fourth game-winning goal of the season, giving him sole possession of the AHL lead and putting him one shy of his own single-season team record set during the 2010-11 season. Boychuk, who tied for the team lead with three game-winning goals last season, is the Checkers' all-time leader in the category with a total of 12 in 137 games played.
Now second on the team and tied for third in the league with nine goals, Boychuk, who is also tied for ninth in overall league scoring, has found the back of the net in eight of the team's 14 games with only four pointless outings.
Terry Streaks Again
With his assist in San Antonio on Friday, Chris Terry (6g, 3a) extended his point streak to seven games, tying Houston's Mikael Granlund for the longest active streak in the AHL. Terry is two games shy of the longest streak posted in the league this season (Oklahoma City defenseman Justin Schultz) and is one shy of the longest posted by a Checker this season (Drayson Bowman). Terry is no stranger to long point streaks, having posted three streaks of five or more games last season, including two eight-game runs that marked career highs.
Charlotte leads the AHL with a 28.8 percent success rate on the man advantage (19 goals on 66 chances). Though the team has had several contributors (11 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 third in goals (4), Marc-Andre Gragnani is tied for second in assists (7) and Boychuk is tied for second in total points (9).
The Checkers will play the third of seven sets of three games in three nights this weekend when they visit San Antonio and Texas. On their last three-in-three, the Checkers won all three games for the first time in franchise history (18 attempts) to improve to 5-1-0 in games that are part of a three-in-three set this season. All time, the Checkers are 31-20-4 in those games, including a 10-7-2 record in Game One, a 13-3-2 record in Game Two and an 8-10-0 record in Game Three.
- Chris Terry has points in each of his last seven games (Oct. 21-Nov. 16; 6g, 3a)
- Justin Faulk has assists and points in each of his last five road games (Oct. 21-Nov. 16; 2g, 7a)
- Justin Peters has wins in each of his last four games (Oct. 28-Nov. 16)
- Riley Nash has points in each of his last four games (Nov. 4-16; 1g, 4a)
- Zac Dalpe has points in each of his last three games (Nov. 8-16; 3g, 2a)
- Nicolas Blanchard has points in each of his last two games (Nov. 9-16; 1g, 1a)
- Justin Faulk has points in each of his last two games (Nov. 9-16; 1g, 1a)
- Jerome Samson scored his 100th point as a Checker with a goal at SA (11/16)
- Marc-Andre Gragnani (lower-body, 11/8) – missed two games