The Checkers make their second trip to Norfolk in as many weeks and fourth of the season as they play a rare March road game against the Admirals tonight.
Despite two straight losses to their regional rivals – both of which took place in Norfolk, including a 6-2 setback last Friday – the Checkers still hold a 3-2-0 lead in the standings for the GEICO Challenge Cup, which will be awarded to the team with the most points at the conclusion of the eight-game season series. With a regulation win tonight, Charlotte would clinch at least a tie in the second annual competition, the first of which went to the Admirals last season.
Following tonight’s game, the Checkers return home for a five-game home stand beginning Saturday. One of those games will be against Norfolk – the second of three meetings this month.
The Checkers are coming off one of their more disappointing games of the season, a 4-2 loss to the Oklahoma City Barons on Monday. They mustered just 18 shots, just one away from tying the franchise record for fewest in a single game, including a record-low one in the second period.
“We’ve got to create our own energy, and we didn’t do that,” said center Sean Dolan.
Regardless of the amount of effort the current roster puts forth, its level of offensive firepower may be at a season-low. With Justin Shugg questionable to play tonight with a lower-body injury, the Checkers will likely recall a seventh forward from the ECHL in order to field a full lineup. Zac Dalpe, A. J. Jenks, Andreas Nodl and Jerome Samson remain out due to injury, while Riley Nash and Brett Sutter have joined the likes of Drayson Bowman and Tim Wallace in Carolina.
Additionally, the Nashville Predators claimed former Checkers scoring leader Zach Boychuk on waivers Tuesday, blocking an intended reclaim by Carolina and his very-near return to the lineup.
“There are no reinforcements coming in the near future,” said scoring leader Chris Terry. “We’ve all got to play as a team and learn our roles.”
A similar story can be told in goal, where John Muse is now the team’s No. 1 option with Dan Ellis and Justin Peters now making up the netminding tandem in Carolina. Muse allowed three goals on five first-period shots on Monday but ended up with 21 saves. He also played the previous game in Norfolk, making 32 saves on 38 shots, and will likely get the start again tonight.
The Admirals have played one game since their win over the Checkers on Friday, a 3-2 loss at Hershey the following night. After coming back from a 2-0 deficit against the Checkers, it was Norfolk that surrendered leads of 1-0 and 2-1 against the Bears.
That loss broke a three-game win streak, though the Admirals are still 7-3-1 in their last 11 outings.
The good news for Charlotte is that forwards Peter Holland (three goals) and Brandon McMillan (two) – easily the heroes of Friday’s win – are now with the Anaheim Ducks. However, Norfolk has received forward Patrick Maroon back from the NHL.
With 30 points (13g, 17a) in 45 games Maroon ranks second among active Admirals in scoring behind defenseman Sami Vatanen (21 points). Vatanen had two assists and was plus-3 against the Checkers on Friday. He also recorded an assist against Hershey, giving him 13 points (all assists) in his last 14 AHL games.
Former Carolina Hurricanes prospect Frederik Andersen has received the bulk of the team’s starts in goal of late, and will likely do so again tonight after backing up Igor Bobkov on Saturday. Andersen is undefeated in his last seven appearances (6-0-0), posting a 1.21 goals-against average and .957 save percentage during that time.
For the season, Andersen, a Hurricanes’ seventh-round draft choice in 2010 who the Ducks picked up in the third round after he turned down Carolina’s contract offer and re-entered the draft this past summer, ranks fifth in the AHL in goals-against average (2.16) and third in save percentage (.931).
Of the Checker's 176 goals scored this season, only 71 of those (40.3 percent) were scored by players who were in the Checkers' lineup on Monday. Scoring leader Chris Terry has accounted for 22 of those, with Jeremy Welsh next with 10. No other player has scored more than six (Michal Jordan and Luke Pither). The Checkers are currently missing seven of their top 10 scorers to due injury or recall to the NHL.
First for Everything
A handful of players recorded either their first goal or point with the Checkers during the team's last few games. David Rutherford's goal to give the Checkers a 2-1, third-period lead over Oklahoma City on Sunday was the first of his AHL career. Matt Marquardt (first point as a Checker) and Brody Sutter (first AHL point of the season and first AHL assist) also hit milestones while assisting on former Florida Everblades teammate Bobby Raymond's goal to give the Checkers a 2-1, first-period lead on Monday.
Shots Hard to Come By
The Checkers took just 18 shots on goal against Oklahoma City on Monday, coming just one shot short of tying the franchise record for fewest in a single game that was set twice in January. Meanwhile, their one second-period shot was the lowest single-period total in the team's three AHL seasons.
Special Special Teams
The Checkers went 1-for-6 on the power play against Oklahoma City on Monday, bringing their total to 13-for-40 over their last eight games (32.5 percent). Additionally, they killed all four Barons power plays, improving their penalty killing total to 26-for-26 over their last seven outings - their longest streak of the season. They have not allowed a power-play goals since Feb. 14 at Chicago.
For the season, the Checkers have the AHL's fourth-best power play at 21.5 percent and the second-best penalty kill at 86.9 percent. They are the only team in the league to have both special teams units rank in the top six.
Gragnani's Helping Hand
Despite missing 21 games this season due to injury and illness, Checkers defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani ranks tied for second in the AHL and tied for first among active players with 17 power-play assists (Justin Schultz, in the NHL since early January, has 18). 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), has eight points (1g, 7a) in his last eight games, including five on the man advantage. Nineteen of Gragnani's 24 points this season (2g, 22a) have come on the power play.
- Marc-Andre Gragnani has points in each of his last three games (March 1-4; 1g, 2a)
- David Rutherford has points in each of his last two games (March 3-4; 1g, 1a)
- Bobby Raymond has points in each of his last two games (March 3-4; 1g, 1a)
- Luke Pither has assists and points in each of his last two games (March 3-4; 0g, 2a)
- Jerome Samson has points in each of his last two games (Jan. 4-6; 1g, 1a)
- Zac Dalpe (lower body, March 1) - missed two games
- Andreas Nodl (lower body, March 1) - missed two games, out for season
- A.J. Jenks (upper body, Jan. 17) - missed 16 games
- Jerome Samson (upper body, Jan. 6) - missed 21 games
- March 4 - (G) Rob Madore recalled to Charlotte from Florida (ECHL)
- March 1 - (C) Zac Dalpe reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
- Feb. 28 – (C) Jeremy Welsh reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
- Feb. 28 – (D) Michal Jordan reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
- Feb. 27 – (D) Marc-Andre Gragnani reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
- March 4 - (G) Justin Peters recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
- March 3 - (C) Brett Sutter recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
- March 2 - (D) Tommi Kivisto reassigned to Florida (ECHL) from Charlotte