The Checkers continue the first leg of their six-game road swing when they visit the Admirals in Milwaukee tonight.
The game marks the fifth meeting of the season between the two clubs, with each team winning two apiece to this point. Both teams are coming off overtime wins, with the Checkers topping Chicago 4-3 on Thursday and Milwaukee earning its third straight victory with a 5-4 triumph over San Antonio last night.
The game is the first of a back-to-back set for Charlotte, which finishes its current three-game trip in Grand Rapids tomorrow afternoon.
The Checkers, who have mostly alternated wins and losses since NHL training camps began in mid-January, are in a position to win three games in a row for the first time since reeling off six consecutive victories from Jan. 4-16.
The two previous wins to start their would-be streak couldn’t have been much closer, with the team coming back to secure a 2-1 win over San Antonio on Sunday and beating Chicago in overtime on Thursday. That’s been a trend of late, with five of the Checkers’ last six games decided by one goal.
While the team could potentially have a lineup change at forward with Matt Beca joining the team on its trip from the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays, a bigger decision for coach Jeff Daniels will be in goal. Justin Peters has started nine of the team’s last 11 games, including back-to-back games last weekend. However, playing three times in four nights with travel involved is a tougher request, even during the lightest month of the Checkers’ schedule.
During his busy streak, Peters is 6-5-0 with a 2.37 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and one shutout. Meanwhile, backup John Muse has won both of his starts this season, posting a 2.99 goals-against average and .867 save percentage.
“Muse has been sharp in practice and he’ll be ready,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “He’s so focused and so professional, he understands that we don’t have a lot of games right now and Peters is our guy.”
Peters was in goal for each of the Checkers’ two wins against Milwaukee this season, with Dan Ellis backstopping their two losses.
With blue line injuries ongoing in Carolina, the Checkers likely will not get All-Star defenseman Michal Jordan back for this weekend. Tommi Kivisto, recalled from the ECHL’s Florida Everblades on Thursday, will continue to take his place in the lineup.
The Checkers will be looking to improve on their stellar road record, which improved to 16-6-4 after their recent win over the Wolves.
The Checkers have a rare rest advantage heading into tonight’s game, as they had an off day in Milwaukee while the Admirals needed extra time to top San Antonio.
Friday’s marked a late offensive explosion for Milwaukee, which scored two goals in the final minute of regulation before winning in overtime. A team without a glut of big scorers that largely produces offensive by committee has been boosted by the presence of NHL veteran Brad Winchester, who has nine points in eight games, including a four-assist effort last night. He now has nine points (1g, 8a) in eight games after failing to make the Calgary Flames out of camp.
Other offensive heroes from last night were scoring leader Taylor Beck (1g, 1a), who now has 36 points in 41 games, and perennial AHL All-Star Chris Mueller (2g, 1a). Captain Mike Moore scored his fifth of the season to win the game in overtime.
Prior to the win over the Rampage, the Admirals had scored two or fewer goals in each of their previous four games. They now rank 19th in the AHL with an average of 2.62 per contest.
In goal, the previously seldom-used Magnus Hellberg earned his third consecutive start – and win – after taking over for struggling workhorse Jeremy Smith. Smith, whose 35 games played this season rank sixth in the league, has not played since giving up nine goals on 52 shots in his last two starts on Feb. 1 and Feb. 8. Prior to his spell on the sidelines, Smith, who could very well play tonight with the Admirals in the midst of a three-in-three, had played in 16 of his team’s previous 19 games.
Milwaukee will be without Gabriel Bourque, Jonathan Blum and Ryan Ellis, who are currently playing with the parent club in Nashville. In addition to Winchester, who has 552 penalty minutes in 390 career NHL contests, they’ve received reinforcements in the form of Predators enforcer Brian McGratton, who made his AHL season debut last night after joining the Admirals on a conditioning stint.
The Admirals are the AHL’s least-penalized team with an average of 12.3 penalty minutes per game.
Terry's Big Goals
Checkers scoring leader Chris Terry leads the team and ranks tied for first in the AHL with six game-winning goals. He also has one shootout-winning goal that is not included in that total. Terry scored on the power-play to give the Checkers a 4-3 win in Chicago on Thursday, his second overtime winner in his last 13 games (at Oklahoma City on Jan. 12).
The Checkers' 4-3 win in Chicago on Thursday marked their third win in their last three overtime appearances. All three games came on the road during the five-minute period preceding the shootout. Chris Terry scored two of those goals to beat Oklahoma City on Jan. 12 and to beat Chicago on Thursday, with Riley Nash scoring to top Houston on Jan. 13.
The Checkers have now won four games in the four-on-four overtime period, putting them into a four-way tie for most in the AHL. Including the shootout, they are 6-5 in overtime games this season.
Gragnani's Helping Hand
Despite missing 21 games this season due to injury and illness, Checkers defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani is tied for sixth in the AHL with 14 power-play assists. With four players ahead of him playing in the NHL, he is in a two-way tie for second among active league skaters. Gragnani, the only player in the AHL to record four power-play assists in a single game this season (at Grand Rapids on Oct. 26), had two power-play assists in Chicago on Thursday, including one on Chris Terry's overtime winner. Fifteen of Gragnani's 18 points this season have come on the man advantage.
With two months left in the 2012-13 season, several Checkers players have met or are approaching career highs in various statistical categories. Milestones through 50 games:
- Chris Terry has 17 goals, one more than all of last season
- Riley Nash has 22 assists, four more than his career high set two seasons ago. He is also one point away from tying his career high of 32 set in 2010-11.
- Zac Dalpe has 15 assists, one more than all of last season
- Brett Sutter has 12 goals, one fewer than his career high set last season
- Justin Shugg as eight assists, tying his total from his rookie campaign last season. His 11 points are two away from tying last season's total.
- Defenseman Brett Bellemore has 11 points, one more than his career high set in each of the last two seasons. He has also tied career highs with two goals and nine assists.
- Forward Jared Staal has three goals, tying last season's career high
- Bobby Raymond has five points, one more than his career high from last season
- Rasmus Rissanen has five assists, two more than last season's career high
Peters Shoulders the Load
Checkers goalie Justin Peters has played in 12 of the Checkers' last 14 games, marking the busiest stretch of any of the team's three goaltenders this season. It is also the busiest period for a Checkers goaltender since John Muse played 12 of 13 games from Jan. 24-Feb. 25 of last season.
For the season, Peters ranks tied for seventh in the AHL with 33 games played fourth with 19 wins. He is also tied for second with five shutouts and is tied for 13th with a 2.42 goals-against average.
The Checkers have compiled a record of 16-6-4 on the road, giving them a total of 36 points that ranks second in the AHL behind Syracuse's 38 (18-6-2). Charlotte is currently in the midst of a six-game road swing that marks the third time they have played six or more consecutive games away from Time Warner Cable Arena this season.
Tale of Two Power Plays
The Checkers have the AHL's best power play on the road (25.8 percent) and the AHL's 29th-ranked power play at home (11.6 percent). They have scored two power-play goals in each of their last three road games (6-for-13) and are scoreless in their last four home games (0-for-15). Overall, the Checkers rank seventh in the AHL at 19.9 percent.
- Nicolas Blanchard has points in each of his last two games (Feb. 10-14; 1g, 1a)
- Brett Bellemore has assists and points in each of his last two games (Feb. 10-14; 0g, 2a)
- Jerome Samson has points in each of his last two games (Jan. 4-6; 1g, 1a)
- David Rutherford (upper body, Feb. 5) - missed three games
- A.J. Jenks (upper body, Jan. 17) - missed nine games
- Jerome Samson (upper body, Jan. 6) - missed 14 games
- Rasmus Rissanen played his 100 AHL/Checkers game on Feb. 14
- Justin Krueger played his 100th AHL/Checkers game on Feb. 10
- Feb. 14 - (D) Tommi Kivisto recalled to Charlotte from Florida (ECHL)
- Feb. 14 - (RW) Matt Beca recalled to Charlotte from South Carolina (ECHL)
- Feb. 14 - (D) Michal Jordan recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte