The noon match-up, the first game in a Time Warner Cable Arena doubleheader with the Charlotte Bobcats, is a quick turnaround from Abbotsford’s 4-3 win on Friday night. The Heat jumped out to a 4-1 lead in that game before Charlotte came just short of completing a spirited comeback in the third period.
Following today’s game, defenseman Michal Jordan, goalie Justin Peters and coach Jeff Daniels will head to Providence for the AHL All-Star Classic, which begins with Sunday’s skills competition and continues with the game on Monday. The Checkers do not play another home game until their annual Pink in the Rink game on Saturday, Feb. 9.
On the heels of a 3-1 loss in Norfolk on Wednesday, the Checkers made it five sluggish periods in a row in falling behind to Abbotsford on Friday. The third period, in which they out-scored the Heat 2-0 and out-shot them 11-3, was much more to their liking.
“If we can do that for 60 minutes, we’re a good team,” said forward Chris Terry.
“The way we’re built right now, it has to be a full 60 minutes or we’re not going to have a very good chance," said Daniels.
A win today could put the Checkers back in the top spot of the South Division, which they lost for the first time since Oct. 20 due to Friday's loss and a point earned by the Texas Stars at San Antonio. The Stars have a rematch with the Rampage later in the day.
Terry, who scored two of his team’s goals in the game, is now just one off his total from all of last season, which he accumulated in 33 more games played. The fourth-year forward, the Checkers’ lone representative at last season’s All-Star Classic, has 13 points (6g, 7a) in his last 12 games.
“He’s a goal scorer, and I thought he stepped up to try to get us going offensively,” said Daniels of Terry, who scored on a tip in the first period and on a blistering one-timer in the third.
Jared Staal had the Checkers’ other goal, his second of the season and first since Oct. 31, which came just 21 seconds after Terry’s second. Both of his goals were scored on breakaways.
“Maybe I’ll try to score one that’s not, because you don’t get breakaways too often,” said Staal, who has seen his role increase since the Checkers lost seven players to the NHL at the end of its work stoppage three weeks ago.
Peters started each of the team’s last five games, giving up a total of seven goals in his last two. Prior to that, he had allowed more than one goal in just four of his previous 12 starts. Given the short turnaround, John Muse, who rejoined the team when Dan Ellis left for Carolina, could get his second start of the season tonight. Muse stopped 25 of 26 shots to earn a 2-1 win over Houston on Jan. 13.
Friday’s win marked the Heat’s fifth in a row, extending their longest streak of the season and marking the longest active run in the AHL. It also gave them four consecutive wins against the Checkers, who took the first-ever meeting between the clubs last January but have not won since.
The Heat’s win on Friday was the only game in their current streak in which they allowed more than one goal. Prior to that, they had given up a total of three in four games, including a 30-save shutout by Barry Brust against Milwaukee on Sunday. The Checkers were the first team to score three goals on Abbotsford, which on average allows at least half a goal less per game than any other AHL team (2.05), since Chicago did so on Jan. 11.
Like the Checkers, who are in a tight battle with Texas in the South, Abbotsford is also scrambling for leadership in a tight North Division. Friday’s win allowed it to reclaim the top spot, though only four points separate the top four teams.
With Danny Taylor starting Friday, Brust, who set an AHL record with a 268-minute shutout streak in November, will likely start today. The veteran, who leads the AHL with a 1.44 goals-against average and is tied for the top spot with a .948 save percentage, had not played in five games prior to his recent shutout while in NHL training camp with the Calgary Flames.
Brust and Peters make up two of the Western Conference’s three-man goalie contingent along with Grand Rapids netminder Petr Mrazek.
Former Checker Brett Carson is among the hottest scorers on the Heat, having notched his third goal in as many AHL games played this season to open the scoring on Friday. Meanwhile, Krys Kolanos has a five-game point streak (2g, 3a), while Dustin Sylvester took first-star honors with three points (1g, 2a) on Friday.
Slow Starts, Fast Finishes
Friday's loss to Abbotsford continued a season-long trend for the Checkers, who fell behind 4-1 after two periods but out-scored the Heat 2-0 in the third to nearly complete what would have been their third three-goal comeback of the season. For the season, Charlotte has a plus-1 goal differential in the first period (31 for, 30 against), a minus-1 goal differential in the second period (44 for, 45 against) and a plus-25 goal differential in the third (56 for, 31 against).
The Checkers' 56 goals scored in the third period are more than any other AHL team has scored in any period this season. Their plus-25 differential is also the best of any team in any period.
Shugg's Quiet Run
After scoring 15 points in his first 44 career AHL games, forward Justin Shugg has scored six points in his last seven games. During that time, he has scored just one goal and has not recorded a single multi-point game. He has also posted an even or better plus/minus rating in each of his last 11 games, going plus-8 in that span. The 21-year-old forward, who ranked second on the Checkers with a plus-5 rating last season, is now tied for seventh on the team with a plus-7 rating.
Prior to earning a recall to the Checkers on Dec. 10, Shugg had 22 points (11g, 11a) in 19 games with the ECHL's Florida Everblades. That performance earned him a selection to the league's All-Star team, but he was unable to attend the Jan. 23 game while on recall with the Checkers.
Terry in Twos
Friday marked Chris Terry's third two-goal game of the season and ninth of his AHL career. He has posted three two-goal games in each of his three seasons with the Checkers but has yet to record a hat trick in four seasons at the AHL level.
Terry, who now has 15 goals on the season - just one short of his total from all of last season - has 13 points (6g, 7a) in his last 12 games played. The Checkers' all-time leader in goals, assists and points now has 199 career points in the AHL, all with the Carolina Hurricanes organization.
Following Saturday's game against Abbotsford, Checkers defenseman Michal Jordan, goalie Justin Peters and coach Jeff Daniels will depart for the AHL All-Star Classic in Providence, RI.
Jordan, an All-Star for the first time in his three professional seasons, has three goals in his last four games, including his first career multi-goal game against Grand Rapids on Jan. 16, less than two hours after the announcement of his selection. Jordan, who had nine goals in his previous 182 AHL games, now has four points (3g, 1a) in his last five games while improving his plus/minus rating to plus-12, which is second on the team and tied for ninth among AHL defensemen.
Peters, set to make his second All-Star appearance and first as a Checker, was 9-4-1 with a 1.65 goals-against average, .940 save percentage and four shutouts between Dec. 11 and Jan. 23. For the season, he ranks 12th in the AHL with a 2.37 goals-against average and second with five shutouts.
The Checkers currently rank in the AHL's top 10 in goals scored per game (3.09 - 9th), goals allowed per game (2.52 - 6th), power-play percentage (19.4% - 9th) and penalty-killing percentage (85.3% - 6th). Only two other AHL teams, Springfield and Toronto, rank in the top 10 in all four categories.
Today marks the first day the Checkers have woken up without a share of the South Division lead since winning at Rockford on Oct. 20, a span of 96 days. They currently trail the Texas Stars by one points, with both teams in action today. Texas and Charlotte currently rank first and fourth in the overall league standings, respectively, with the Checkers till enjoying a a 10-point lead over the Chicago Wolves, who are the ninth-placed team in the Western Conference.
Justin Peters has started five consecutive games (Jan. 16-Jan. 20; 2-3-0)
Jerome Samson has points in each of his last two games (Jan. 4-6; 1g, 1a)
A.J. Jenks (upper body, Jan. 17) - missed three games
Jerome Samson (upper body, Jan. 6) - missed eight games