What the Checkers hoped would be a weekend to remember ended with a finish they’d rather forget.
Playing the second of two games against the high-flying Oklahoma City Barons, the Checkers fell 7-2 to suffer their most lopsided loss of the season on Sunday. Tim Wallace and Zach Boychuk scored for the Checkers, who have now lost consecutive games for the first time all season on the heels of a season-long, six-game point streak.
Dan Ellis got the start in goal, stopping 23 of 29 shots before giving way to Peters late in the second period.
Contrary to the thrilling back-and-forth game on Saturday that saw the top players from eac¬¬h team make their mark, Sunday’s outcome was rarely in doubt. Asked what changed, coach Jeff Daniels’ answer was simple.
“Everything,” he said. "Right from the get-go they were the better team and we were paralyzed."
The turn of events could be considered somewhat surprising given that the Checkers came a few hit goal posts away a different result in the first meeting between the two teams, a 4-2 loss on Saturday. Having proven they could play with the likes of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz, extremely talented players only playing in the AHL due to the NHL’s lockout, they seemingly forgot that on Sunday.
“It almost looked like we were a bit scared of them,” said Boychuk, whose five-on-three goal cut the score to 3-2 early in the second period before the Barons pulled away for good. “From the drop of the puck we were timid, and you can’t do that against a firehouse like that. They’ll make you look silly.”
“I think we gave them too much respect,” said Checkers captain Brett Sutter, who had one assist. “They’ve got three of the best players in the world out there, and if you let them they’ll make you pay.”
Eberle, an NHL All-Star last season, had three points on Sunday, including his second consecutive two-goal game against the Checkers. AHL scoring leader Schultz chipped in four points (1g, 3a), while 2010 first overall draft pick Hall had three assists.
The defeat was easily the Checkers’ biggest of the season – prior to meeting the Barons, all three of their regulation losses had come by just one goal – and most since an 8-2 defeat to Abbotsford in April. They also allowed a season-high 47 shots, taking just 25 themselves on goalie Yann Danis.
“It was a bit of a wake-up call,” said Boychuk.
Aside from Boychuk’s goal, his 12th of the season that tied him for the AHL lead at the time, and Wallace’s first strike since he scored the team’s first goal of the season on Oct. 13, there wasn’t a great deal to take away from the outing. Seemingly no Checker was immune, including Ellis, who was in the AHL’s top five in both goals-against average and save percentage coming in, and Justin Faulk, who had a team-low, minus-five rating.
“It was a total team effort of not getting the job done tonight,” said Daniels.
Wallace’s goal, a tip of a Bobby Sanguinetti point shot looked as though it could be the goal the team needed to claw back after a slow start that saw the Barons’ Anton Lander score his first of the season just four minutes in. However, a shorthanded tally by Chris VandeVelde opened the floodgates, with Oklahoma City scoring seven of the game’s next eight goals.
That run included three in a span of just under four minutes courtesy of Dane Byers, Schultz and Eberle in the second period that wiped out Boychuk’s goal that had cut it to 3-2. Teemu Hartikainen then tacked on another in an otherwise uneventful third period as Peters allowed his only goal in 18 shots against.
The Checkers, who will enter the coming week outside of the AHL’s top spot they occupied coming in, now face a five-day layoff before their season-long, 10-game home stand continues with back-to-back games against Rockford starting Saturday.
That’s a long time to think about a game in which they came well short of a team they hoped to use as a measuring stick for their own ability, but they said they’ll do their best to remain positive.
“Where we are in the standings isn’t a fluke and we’ve done a lot of good things,” said Daniels.
“We didn’t get to the top of the standings by accident, and you’ve just got to remember that,” said Sutter.
Oklahoma City won its fifth game in a row to extend its overall point streak to seven games (6-0-1) …Eberle, who entered the game second in the league in scoring behind Schultz, has 12 points in his last six games. Schultz has 11 in that same span … The Barons are now two points behind the Checkers in the South Division with one fewer game played … Boychuk extended his point streak and home goals streaks to four games … Faulk took three consecutive minor penalties, giving him a game-high six penalty minutes … Forwards A.J. Jenks and Justin Soryal and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani (lower body) were scratched for Charlotte ... Fans named Rasmus Rissanen the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game.
North Carolina Education Lottery Three Stars
1. Jordan Eberle (Oklahoma City)
2. Justin Schultz (Oklahoma City)
3. Taylor Hall (Oklahoma City)