Despite being in the midst of the longest home stand in their history, the Checkers haven't been able to use that home ice to their advantage.
Brett Sutter scored his team's only goal as the Checkers fell 4-1 to Rockford at Time Warner Cable Arena on Sunday, dropping them to 0-4-0 on their 10-game home stand. Coupled with a 5-2 Saturday loss to Rockford and two previous defeats at the hands of Oklahoma City, the Checkers' longest and only losing streak of the season now stands at four games.
On the heels of two poor showings, the Checkers felt better about Sunday's game, even if the result was the same.
"I think the effort was there, way better than last night, but it was the little plays we didn't execute," said Zac Dalpe. "That's kind of what hurt us in the end. The goalie made a couple of nice saves but we're an offensive team and we want to score more than that."
"Guys were working hard," said defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti. "Maybe yesterday it was a different story, but today was better and we just weren't getting the bounces.
The four-game losing streak ties a run in April in which the Checkers dropped their last four home games of last season – a streak that ultimately cost them a playoff spot. That streak and the team's current streak are part of a larger slump that has seen the team win just three of its last 12 games at Time Warner Cable Arena.
"We've got to be hard to play against at home and make this a tough place to get points," said coach Jeff Daniels. "Right now it's easy."
The team's trouble on home ice is in stark contrast to what it's been able to accomplish on the road. The team returned from a nine-game road swing to start the season with the best record in the AHL, and are 9-2-0 on the road this season as opposed to 3-5-0 at home.
I was thinking the other day about how in my three years here, most of our success has been on the road," said Dalpe.
"We have good crowds, the bench is lively and the room is happy, but we haven't been able to translate that onto the ice."
For the first time this season, goal scoring has become an issue for the Checkers, who were scoring around four goals per game for a prolonged stretch in October and November. The four-period drought between Zach Boychuk's first-period goal on Saturday and Sutter's third-period goal on Sunday was their longest of the season.
During their home stand, the Checkers have scored a total of seven goals.
"They're not going in the back of the net now is the difference," said Daniels when asked. "In the early part of the year guys were scoring and feeling confident, and that's not happening now."
After scoring five unanswered goals to come back from a 2-0 deficit on Saturday, Rockford jumped out to a 2-0 lead on Sunday on a first-period goal by Adam Clandening, who sent a soft shot through traffic and past Dan Ellis on a power play, and a second-period strike by Kyle Beach, whose excellent shot beat Ellis on a three-on-two break.
Sutter would make things interesting by breaking his team's scoring drought as the puck bounced out to him in the slot midway through the third period, giving him seven goals on the season and putting him over halfway to his career high of 13 set last season.
However, Brandon Pirri's breakaway goal of a Checkers turnover restored the two-goal lead and effectively ended the home team's chances of a comeback, with Martin St. Pierre's empty netter providing the final nail in the coffin.
The Checkers played the bulk of the game with just five defensemen, as an errant puck hit Justin Faulk in the face in the first period, causing him to leave the game and not return. Following the game, Daniels did not have an update on Faulk's condition, though it is believed that the player, who tweeted a photo of the damage after the game, should be able to return for the team's next game against Lake Erie on Thursday.
That game is the first of six home games in 10 days for the Checkers, making it an important time for the team to solve whatever seems to be ailing it on home ice.
"We're going to try to get back at it and try to forget about this weekend," said Sanguinetti.
"The biggest thing is to not get frustrated," said Daniels.
Rockford won three straight games against Charlotte to win the now-completed season series with Charlotte at 3-1-0 … Boychuk's five-game point streak, as well as his five-game home goal streak, came to an end … Michal Jordan was a healthy scratch, missing a game for the first time since April 4, 2011 … Forward Jared Staal was also a healthy scratch … Fans named Sutter winner of the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game Award.