On Wednesday, goalie Justin Peters earned his third shutout in his last four starts and fifth of the season in a 1-0 win over the Griffins that marked the Checkers’ sixth consecutive victory – a new franchise record. Newcomer Luke Pither scored the only goal in his debut with Charlotte, which has never lost in six all-time meetings with Grand Rapids.
The game continues a three-game home stand for the Checkers, who will host Norfolk on Sunday.
Wednesday’s win improved the Checkers to a perfect 3-0-0 since the first major wave of players departed for NHL training camp with the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday. Contrary to the game the preceded those departures – a dynamic 7-0 victory over Oklahoma City, each of those wins came by just one goal.
In the first match-up of the week against the Griffins, the Checkers won despite taking just 17 shots on goal, setting a new franchise record for fewest in a single game. They've now taken fewer than 20 in two of three games with their new look roster, including a 4-3 overtime win over Oklahoma City on Sunday. They also had just one goal during regulation time of their previous game but ended up topping Houston 2-1 in overtime.
“We've got to make what we have work,” said coach Jeff Daniels, who was missing 11 players that he had at the start of the season due to injury or recall. “It’s a credit to the guys who are battling and working hard. We’re not creating a lot of offense right now, but we’re being fairly smart with the puck.”
The way Peters has been playing lately, one goal has actually been sufficient. The veteran now ranks second in the AHL in shutouts, having extended his own team record for most in a single season while setting a new personal record in the same category. Four of his shutouts have come since Dec. 11.
"I feel comfortable in there, but it's the result of the way the guys are playing in front of me,” he said. “With the adversity this team's dealt with over the last week, the coaches have really made the transition easy for the new guys and they've really bought into the system."
As has been the case ever since the lockout ended, the Checkers’ lineup tonight is again up in the air after Carolina placed nine players on waivers yesterday. Seven of those are current Checkers, including Peters, who could be claimed by any NHL team up until noon today. An eighth, captain Brett Sutter, will join the team for tonight’s game after spending the last few days with Carolina should he clear, while NHL veteran Andreas Nodl could also be on his way if he clears and the Hurricanes are unable to trade him.
After noon today, the Checkers should have a better idea of whether they’ll keep what they have intact – potentially even adding a few new players in Sutter and Nodl – or if they’ll have to add to the nine ECHL recalls already on their roster.
Despite the presence of their top four scorers who did not receive invites to Detroit Red Wings training camp, the Midwest-division leaders were unable to put a dent in Peters and a resilient group of fresh-faced Checkers on Wednesday.
Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar, who Daniels praised as being among the best in the AHL following Wednesday’s game, headline that group, as does Landon Ferraro, who had five goals in his previous seven games heading into this back-to-back series.
Despite solid play from rookie goalie Petr Mrazek, who now ranks eighth in AHL goals-against average (2.24), Wednesday’s loss was the third in as many games for Grand Rapids (including one overtime loss), tying its longest winless stretch of the season. The Griffins’ only other three-game losing streak was in their first three games of the season, which included one shootout loss.
Mrazek has played in four of the team’s last five games and has started on back-to-back nights on one previous occasion this season. Tom McCollum (2.55 goals-against average) rounds out the Griffins’ goalie tandem.
Defensemen Brian Lashoff and Brendan Smith are the only Griffins currently at training camp in Detroit.
The Checkers' current six-game win streak dating back to Jan. 4 is a new franchise record, topping the old record of five set from Nov. 20-30, 2011, and is the longest active streak in the AHL. Additionally, an overtime loss that precedes it gives the team an active seven-game point streak, tying a franchise record set on two previous occasions, including once this season from Dec. 11-21 of this season. It too is the longest active streak of its kind in the AHL and marks the third point streak of six or more games the Checkers have set in 40 games this season.
The Checkers, who also set a team record with five consecutive losses this season, have not lost in regulation since Dec. 30, making them 6-0-1 to start the calendar year of 2013.
Puck Stops with Peters
Beginning with a 4-0 win over Lake Erie on Jan. 4, goalie Justin Peters has earned shutouts in three of his last four starts. Going back even further to Dec. 11, he has held opponents without a goal in four of his last nine.
Peters now has five shutouts on the season, good for second place in the AHL. That mark extends his team record for most in a single season and sets a new personal best in that same category, topping the four he earned with Albany in 2008-09. He is the Checkers' all-time leader with six shutouts.
Dating back to Dec. 11, Peters is 8-2-1 with a 1.34 goals-against average and .947 save percentage and three shutouts in his last 11 games. For the season, he ranks ninth in the AHL in goals-against average (2.25) and 13th in save percentage (.919).
Shutting the Door
Led by five shutouts from Justin Peters and two more from Dan Ellis, the Checkers now have seven team shutouts this season, more than any other AHL club. In just 40 games, that tops the previous team record of four, set last season.
For the season, the Checkers now rank fourth in the AHL with an average of 2.45 goals allowed per game.
No Shots, No Problem
Despite taking fewer than 20 shots in two of their last three games, the first times they had done so all season, the Checkers emerged with victories in each contest. That stretch includes a 17-shot effort that set a new franchise record for fewest in a single game against Grand Rapids on Wednesday. For the season, the Checkers, who took 50 or more shots twice in December (both losses), rank fifth in the AHL with an average of 32.5 per game.
The Checkers currently rank in the AHL's top 10 in goals scored per game (3.08 - t-9th), goals allowed per game (2.45 - 4th), power-play percentage (19.6% - 7th) and penalty-killing percentage (86.0% - 4th). Only one other AHL team, Springfield, ranks in the top 10 in all four categories. Both clubs currently lead their divisions and are among the top two seeds in their respective conferences.
Welcome to the Club
Due to a combination of injuries and recalls to NHL training camp in Carolina, a total of seven players - Forwards Matt Beca, Matthew Pistilli, Luke Pither, David Rutherford and Leigh Salters, defenseman Beau Schmitz and goaltender John Muse - have made their season debuts with Charlotte in the last six days. Two of those players, Rutherford and Schmitz, played their first-ever AHL games and earned their first professional points with assists on Saturday, while Salters played his first-ever game with the Checkers, also on Saturday. Pither, who was acquired by the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday, scored a goal, his first in the AHL since Jan. 6, 2012, in his Checkers debut on Wednesday.
During Wednesday's game against Grand Rapids, the Checkers had nine players on their roster who started the season in the ECHL. In addition to the players listed above, with the exception of Salters, who rejoined the Florida Everblades earlier in the day, that list includes forward Justin Shugg and defensemen Tommi Kivisto and Bobby Raymond, who were already with the team prior to last week.
In the Driver's Seat
The Checkers have began each day holding the top spot in the South Division since winning at Rockford on Oct. 20, a span of 87 days. Charlotte, which currently leads the second-place Texas Stars by four points, is 9-4-3 in divisional play this season, having played the fewest inter-divisional games of any South team to this point.
Justin Peters has won each of his last four starts (Jan. 4-16)
Justin Shugg has assists and points in each of his last three games (Jan. 12-16; 0g, 3a)
Marc-Andre Gragnani has points in each of his last three games (Dec. 14-16; 1g, 2a)
Jerome Samson has points in each of his last two games (Jan. 4-6; 1g, 1a)
Jerome Samson (upper body, Jan. 6) - missed four games
Nicolas Blanchard (upper body, Jan. 3) - missed six games
Marc-Andre Gragnani (lower body, Dec. 16) - missed 12 games
Jan. 16 - (RW) Matt Beca recalled to Charlotte from South Carolina (ECHL)
Jan. 15 - (C) Riley Nash reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
Jan. 15 - (C) Jeremy Welsh reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
Jan. 13 - (C) Luke Pither assigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
Jan. 12 - (G) John Muse recalled to Charlotte from Florida (ECHL)
Jan. 12 - (D) Beau Schmitz recalled to Charlotte from Florida (ECHL)
Jan. 12 - (RW) Matthew Pistilli signed professional tryout contract
Jan. 11 - (F) David Rutherford recalled to Charlotte from Florida (ECHL)
Jan. 10 - (C) A.J. Jenks recalled to Charlotte from Florida (ECHL)
Jan. 16 - (LW) Leigh Salters released from professional tryout contract
Jan. 14 - (F) Zac Dalpe recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
Jan. 14 - (F) Brett Sutter recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
Jan. 12 - (G) Dan Ellis recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
Jan. 12 - (D) Justin Faulk recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
Jan. 12 - (D) Bobby Sanguinetti recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
Jan. 12 - (LW) Drayson Bowman recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
Jan. 12 - (RW) Tim Wallace recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
Jan. 12 - (F) Zach Boychuk recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte