As they head into the holiday, the Checkers do so with their earlier struggle at home nothing but a distant memory.
Jerome Samson and Brett Sutter scored goals and Justin Peters made 28 saves to win his fourth consecutive start as the Checkers extended their point streak to six games (5-0-1) with a win against Peoria at Time Warner Cable Arena. The win avenged a shootout loss in the previous night’s meeting between the two clubs, with the Checkers now 5-0-1 in the season series.
The point streak ties the longest of the season for the Checkers, who maintained first place in the AHL with a record of 18-9-3. The game also concluded a stretch of 10 home games in 28 days for the Checkers – one they started with five consecutive losses before winning five of the last six.
“For the past two weeks we’ve been doing what we need to do,” said Sutter. “Now we can enjoy the time off and rest up.”
The game, which marked the eighth Checkers win in their last nine meetings with Peoria, couldn’t have been any more different than the trilling 5-4 shootout loss from one night earlier. In that game, the Checkers fired a team record 54 shots (they took less than half of that – 24, to be exact – on Friday) and erased a four-goal deficit with less than nine minutes remaining in the third period.
This game was much more controlled, with Samson putting his team ahead just 1:58 into the game on a hard wrist shot as he entered the offensive zone, making up for a goal the Checkers gave up after just 33 seconds one night earlier.
The teams then went into the first period tied at 1-1 after Adam Cracknell’s goal, but Sutter’s tally just 1:08 into the second, his 10th of the season that has him just one away from tying last season’s career high, provided a lead the home team was able to protect without too much incident for the rest of the way.
Given the choice between Friday’s game and the “run and gun” affair that preceded it, a coach will take the former every day of the week.
“I thought the effort was really good tonight,” said Daniels. “It was a hard-fought game, and we found a way to win.”
Peters, who entered Thursday’s game in relief of Dan Ellis, also seemed to prefer Round Two with the Rivermen.
“Last night was a weird game,” he said. “We had lots of shots, but I don’t really think we were playing the right way. Tonight we did.”
Peters came ever so close to earning his second shutout in three starts, with Peoria’s only goal the result of a fluky play. Cracknell’s shot may not have even made it on net, but the veteran forward got credit for the score when Justin Faulk’s clearing attempt of a loose puck hit Sutter in the legs and caromed back into the net.
Other than that, Peters, who has given up just three goals in his last four starts, was perfect.
“I feel confident in my ability out there,” he said.
“He’s been sharp, and even the goal against tonight was a bad break,” said Daniels. “He’s very focused and very driven, and he’s such a competitor. We’re very fortunate to have both him and (Dan) Ellis.”
Sutter’s goal was also of the unconventional variety, as the Checkers’ captain intercepted a pass that Peoria goalie Jake Allen tried to make along the wall behind his net. After stealing the puck, Sutter continued skating around the goal and stuffed home the wraparound before Allen could recover.
“It was a product of the hard work he puts in,” said Daniels of the goal. “That’s how he gets his goals, and that’s why he’s the leader of this club.”
There was also some gamesmanship involved in the goal, as Sutter admitted to calling Allen’s name in an attempt to get the netminder to mistake him for a defenseman coming back to help and pass the puck his way, a strategy that paid off.
“It was a wily old play,” said Sutter.
Did Sutter overhear Allen’s nickname, or simply use the one on the back of his jersey?
“I was just screaming,” he said.
As the Checkers now head to a six-day break, they’ll do so having restored the momentum they built earlier in the season, when they looked like a team to beat in the AHL. With their last six-game point streak having immediately preceded the losing streak that brought it to what’s turned out to be a temporary halt, they hope to continue that momentum when they return to action next Friday.
“We just got back to the basics,” said Daniels. “The character in that room said enough is enough, and we got back on track.”
The Checkers’ previous six-game point streak took place from Nov. 8-21, when the team was also 5-0-1 … Zach Boychuk picked up an assist on Samson’s goal, extending his point streak to six games. The streak is the third-longest posted by a Checker this season, trailing Chris Terry (seven) and Drayson Bowman (eight). His career-long streak is seven games … The Checkers’ next “home” game will take place at Raleigh’s PNC Arena on Jan. 6 … Defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani missed his second consecutive game with a lower-body injury, while forwards Jared Staal and Justin Soryal were healthy scratches … Fans voted Jerome Samson the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game.