It will be a night of firsts at Time Warner Cable Arena tonight as the Checkers take on the Peoria Rivermen at 7 p.m. In addition to serving as the Checkers’ home opener, the game will also mark the first-ever meeting between the two new division rivals – a trend that will continue throughout the season with Charlotte’s offseason move to the Western Conference.
The game will also mark the first of 10 television appearances for the Checkers this season, as the game can be seen live on Time Warner Cable channel 520.
Perhaps more importantly for the teams involved, one team will be taking away its first victory of the season. The Checkers hold a record of 0-1-1-0, having dropped their first two games at Norfolk last weekend, including their season opener in overtime. The Rivermen, the top affiliate of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues, dropped back-to-back decisions to Rockford and Milwaukee in the opening weekend.
The Checkers, and the entire AHL entering Friday night's games, are led by Jon Matsumoto, who recorded 6 points (2g, 4a) in the team’s first two games. With four other players exiting the Norfolk series with an average of a point-per-game or better, the team isn’t overly concerned about its ability to generate goals. In fact, despite their winless record, the Checkers are tied for the second-most goals scored in the entire league (eight).
That’s why the team spent an entire week of uninterrupted practice focusing on its defense, as the Checkers’ 10 allowed goals are tied with Albany and Rochester for the most in the league. Coach Jeff Daniels was careful not to place blame directly on the teams’ defensemen or goaltenders, as he believes the forwards also played a role in allowing 44 shots in each game at Norfolk.
Speaking of goaltenders, Mike Murphy and Justin Peters, who made 40 and 38 saves, respectively, in their season debuts, are each expected to start one game against Peoria.
Charlotte will have a healthy lineup going into the game.
The Rivermen are facing many of the same issues as the Checkers, having allowed nine goals in their first two games. They too have been off since the weekend, having most recently succumbed to Rockford by a 5-3 score on Sunday.
The Rivermen carry a recognizable hockey name in Jonathan Cheechoo, who led the NHL in goal scoring as a member of the San Jose Sharks with 56 tallies in 2005-06. Cheechoo, who is beginning his first season with Peoria but second consecutive campaign in the AHL, started last weekend on the team’s top line but was replaced by Adam Cracknell in the second game. Cheechoo has not yet recorded a point and owns a -4 plus/minus rating, while Cracknell notched a goal and an assist on Sunday.
After not making the playoffs last season due to injuries in St. Louis, the Blues organization took steps this offseason to bolster the organization’s depth. Those included the signing of Cheechoo and AHL All-Star Brett Sterling up front and Danny Syvret on defense. They join center T.J. Hensick and goaltender Jake Allen, each of whom were named Western Conference All-Stars last season.
All rankings through games of Oct. 13
• Center Jon Matsumoto entered Friday's game with the league lead in points (6) and was tied for the league lead in assists (4). He has recorded three points in two consecutive games, a first in his professional career. He also ranks tied for first in the league in power-play points (3).
• Left wing Drayson Bowman has points (2g, 1a) in two consecutive games. He tied his career high with a two-goal performance on Oct. 8.
• Defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti entered Friday's games tied for second among league defensemen in points and assists (3) and power-play points (2). He also led all league defensemen in shots on goal (10), three more than any other blueliner. He has assists in two consecutive games.
• Checkers defenseman Rasmus Rissanen entered Friday's games tied for most minor penalties among rookies and defensemen (3).
Peoria (Oct. 12): David Shields (D) – Reassigned by St. Louis (NHL) to Alaska (ECHL)