The Checkers begin the post-All-Star portion of their schedule with back-to-back games in Oklahoma City starting tonight.
The meetings continue the eight-game season series between the South Division rivals, with the road team having won all four games to this point. That includes back-to-back Checkers wins just three weeks ago that featured a 7-0 win on Jan. 11, the last game before a host of players departed for the NHL, and a 4-3 overtime win on Jan. 12.
This week’s game will be the Checkers’ last visit to Oklahoma City, where they’ve won five of six all-time meetings over the last two seasons. The Barons wrap up the season series with two games in Charlotte in early March.
A period of roster turnover that began the last time the Checkers were in Oklahoma City has continued through subsequent weeks, with a pair of notable transactions taking place on Wednesday.
First, the Carolina Hurricanes recalled forward Andreas Nodl, who had four points in five games with Charlotte, leaving the Checkers with the bare minimum of 12 forwards on their trip. However, Carolina’s decision to place Checkers scoring leader Zach Boychuk on waivers later in the day could potentially give them one more, and a significant one at that.
For Boychuk to rejoin the Checkers, the NHL’s other 29 clubs would have to take a pass on acquiring his services – results of which will not be known until noon on Thursday. If he clears, he’ll be on his way to Oklahoma City, though his status for tonight’s game wouldn’t be certain due to travel constraints.
Update: The Pittsburgh Penguins claimed Boychuk at noon Thursday. More info here.
Meanwhile, the Checkers will continue to make do with what they have. In the absence of Boychuk and others in Carolina, they seem to have found a way to generate offense, having scored three or more goals in four of their last five games.
“I thought we created a lot more chances in our last game before the break, but we’ve still got a lot of new faces and guys settling in to new roles,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “But we haven’t played in a while (since Saturday afternoon), and the most important thing will be getting our legs back under us.”
“When all those guys left it took a while to find chemistry, and I think we’re getting that familiarity now,” said Chris Terry, who has four points (2g, 2a) in his last two games.
The meetings with the Barons kick off the leanest portion of the schedule for the Checkers, who lead the league with 45 games played coming in. After Friday’s game, they’re off for seven days, an even longer hiatus than they enjoyed during the All-Star Break. The light load could lead to Daniels relying heavily on No. 1 goalie Justin Peters, though backup John Muse has won each of his two starts since joining the team on Jan. 12.
Peters has played in all four games against Oklahoma City this season, going 2-1-0 with a 2.04 goals-against average, .929 save percentage and one shutout.
The Checkers’ outcomes against the Barons varied wildly on either side of the NHL lockout coming to an end. In November, the Edmonton Oilers’ foursome of star players looked the part in an 8-2 win, while Charlotte, still with a mostly full roster, tied the most lopsided win in its history in the first game after their departure.
That win and the overtime triumph the next night came in the midst of a hangover period for the Barons, who lost their first five games post-lockout. They’ve given up six or more goals three times during that stretch, but have managed to pick up two wins in their last four.
Though they don’t have anything close to what they had earlier in terms of offensive firepower (six of their top seven scorers are in the NHL), they’ve still looked dangerous at times. In one such instance on Friday, they fired 48 shots at San Antonio goalie and Checkers nemesis Jacob Markstrom but still suffered a 3-2 loss.
“They’re not scoring as much as they were when they had those guys, but they’re fast and they’re still creating chances,” said Daniels. “We just had one of those nights where pucks were going in (in the 7-0 win), but the next night when we needed a goal to tie it late and send it to overtime was a totally different game.”
With the likes of Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz, who still lead the AHL in scoring despite not having played since Jan. 5, out of the picture, Marc Arcobello is the team’s active scoring leader with 35 points (12g, 23a) in 41 games. He was the team’s representative at last weekend’s All-Star game and was one of two players to record a game-high three points (all assists).
Much as they lost players to the NHL, the Barons simultaneously replaced them with experienced veterans unable to find homes in the majors. Forward Jonathan Cheechoo, 32, who led the NHL with 56 goals in 2005-06 but has spent most of the last three seasons in the AHL, joined the team on a tryout contract on Jan. 20 and has two assists in three games. Defenseman Brett Clark, 36, who spent all of last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, has the same scoring total since signing an AHL contract the next day.
In goal, starter Yann Danis, the reigning AHL goalie of the year, returns from a stint with the Oilers in time for tonight’s game. Recent Oilers waiver acquisition Niko Hovinen is also in the picture, though the 6-foot-7, 200 pound Finn has yet to play an AHL game.
Terry in Twos
With two goals on Friday and two assists on Saturday, forward Chris Terry has two points in each of his last two games (4g, 4a). His first assist on Saturday marked the 200th point of his AHL career, spent entirely with the Carolina Hurricanes organization.
Terry, who now has 15 goals on the season - just one short of his total from all of last season - has 15 points (6g, 9a) in his last 13 games played, and is just one point behind team scoring leader Zach Boychuk. He is the Checkers' all-time leader in games played (196), goals (65), assists (89) and points (154).
Shugg's Quiet Run
After scoring 15 points in his first 44 career AHL games, forward Justin Shugg has scored eight points in his last eight. During that time, he has scored one goal and has recorded just one multi-point game, a two-assist outing in the Checkers' most recent game on Sunday. He has also posted an even or better plus/minus rating in each of his last 12 games, going plus-9 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 sixth on the team with a plus-8 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.
Defense Gets Offensive
Saturday's 5-4 win over Abbotsford marked the first time in Checkers history (201 games) that defensemen combined to score three goals in one game. Three different blueliners - Brett Bellemore, Michal Jordan and Bobby Raymond - found the back of the net to set the record. Heading into the game, those three players had combined for just 17 goals in 511 previous AHL regular-season games.
Pither's Dream Debut
In his first AHL games of the season after joining the Checkers via trade on Jan. 13, Luke Pither has scored nine points (4g, 5a) to go along with a plus-8 rating in just six games. During that time, he has set and matched a career high with two separate three-point peformances and has failed to find the score sheet in just one game.
At the time of the trade, Pither, who recorded 94 points in his fifth and final season of junior hockey in 2009-10, had 22 points (9g, 13a) in 24 games for the ECHL's Wheeling Nailers. In 112 career AHL games with Adirondack and Charlotte, Pither now has 39 points (15g, 24a).
First to 45
Heading into the AHL All-Star break, the Checkers' 45 games played were the most in the league, with only five other teams having played 44. Despite having the league's busiest schedule to this point, Charlotte's .633 percentage of possible points earned ranked fifth in the AHL.
The Checkers will get a relief from the hectic schedule in February, which features just eight games in 28 days - the lightest schedule of any AHL team in that month.
Slow Starts, Fast Finishes
The Checkers allowed the first two goals in each of their last three games, continuing a season-long trend of getting better as games go along. Charlotte has an even goal differential in the first period (32 for, 32 against), a plus-1 goal differential in the second period (47 for, 46 against) and a plus-25 goal differential in the third (57 for, 32 against).
The Checkers' 57 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.
The Checkers currently rank in the AHL's top 10 in goals scored per game (3.13 - 7th), goals allowed per game (2.56 - 7th), power-play percentage (19.0% - t-9th) and penalty-killing percentage (85.5% - 5th). Only two other AHL teams, Springfield and Toronto, rank in the top 10 in all four categories.
Though the Checkers briefly regained the top spot on Saturday afternoon, a win by Texas later that night allowed the Stars to top the South Division for the second time in as many days. The Stars first passed Charlotte on Friday night, knocking the Checkers out of the lead for the first time since Oct. 20, a span of 96 days. They Checkers, who have the third-highest point total in the AHL, currently trail the first-place Stars by just one point.
- Chris Terry has points in each of his last two games (Jan. 25-26; 2g, 2a)
- Justin Shugg has assists and points in each of his last two games (Jan. 25-26; 0g, 3a)
- Riley Nash has assists and points in each of his last two games (Jan 25-26; 0g, 2a)
- Jerome Samson has points in each of his last two games (Jan. 4-6; 1g, 1a)
- A.J. Jenks (upper body, Jan. 17) - missed four games
- Jerome Samson (upper body, Jan. 6) - missed nine games
- Jan. 26 - (C) Jeremy Welsh reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
- Jan. 30 - (RW) Andreas Nodl recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
- Jan. 27 - (D) Beau Schmitz reassigned to Florida (ECHL) from Charlotte
- Jan. 27 - (RW) Matt Beca reassigned to South Carolina (ECHL) from Charlotte