November 13, 2011 9:14 AM
The most grueling part of the Checkers’ schedule is finally coming to an end.
Game No. 9 of the team’s season-long road swing takes place in Houston tonight (6 p.m., AHLLive.com) as the Checkers look for their second consecutive win. Thus far on the road trip, which has been made up of three consecutive three-in-three weekend clusters, the Checkers have gone 5-3-0 to improve their overall record to 9-5-1 and second place in the Western Conference.
In addition to the conclusion of the road swing, tonight’s game will also mark the final match-up of the season between the Checkers and Houston (8-3-3, 5th Western Conference). The Aeros held the upper hand in the first three games, posting a record of 2-0-1, including a 5-3 win in Houston exactly two weeks ago.
One night after being shut out for the first time all season, the Checkers got the better of Oklahoma City goaltender Yann Danis in the second meeting in as many nights, scoring twice in the game’s first 7:13 en route to an eventual 3-2 victory on Saturday. The win halted the Barons’ six-game winning streak that had seen them climb into first place in the Western Conference.
Though that win helped them rediscover their offense, the Checkers will get a further boost by the return of Chris Terry from suspension. Still holding a share of third in team scoring despite missing the last two games due to his charge of Grand Rapids goalie Joey MacDonald last week (Drayson Bowman has since caught up), Terry will help the team in all situations. Though they had limited opportunities (just five in two games), the Checkers did not score a power-play goal in his absence.
Mike Murphy will make the start in goal for Charlotte, having won his most recent decision by a 4-2 score in Rockford last Sunday. He takes over for Justin Peters, who has posted a .954 save percentage and 1.34 goals-against average in three starts since returning from injury last week.
The two Checkers netminders have combined to give Charlotte the league’s third-best defense with an average of 2.33 goals allowed per game, despite allowing the 7th-most shots (32.07). The Checkers have allowed two or fewer goals in six of their last eight games.
Since topping the Checkers on Oct. 29, Houston has gone 2-2-0, including home losses to Toronto and Abbotsford in its last two games. During the losing streak, the Aeroes allowed six and five goals, respectively, for their most porous two-game stretch of the season. Compared to the Checkers, who are wrapping of their fourth consecutive weekend with three games in three days, the Aeros should be well rested, having been off since losing 5-3 to Abbotsford on Thursday.
Each of the three meetings between the Checkers and Houston this season have been marked by key late goals from the Aeros, as they have scored in the final two minutes to either win or tie each meeting. That’s been a trend for Houston all season, as their third-period goal differential (+11) is tied for the best of any team this season. The Checkers will have to continue to be cautious, as their third-period differential (-10) is their worst of an period and the only frame in which they have a negative differential.
Led by Casey Wellman (tied for league lead with 6 power-play goals), Jeff Taffe (league-leading 9 power-play assists and rookie Chay Genoway (tied third among AHL defensemen with 6 power-play assists), Houston owns the league’s No. 8 power play at 21.8 percent.
The Aeros also have several players on hot streaks, with Taffe posting assists in each of his last five games and Genoway recording helpers in each of his last three. Wellman has scored points in all seven of the Aeros’ home games.
• Saturday’s win improved the Checkers’ season record to 4-0-0 in the second game of three-in-three sets this season. Over the last two seasons, they have a 9-2-1 record in game two, their best of any game. In game three, they’re 2-1-0 this season, with the only loss coming in Houston on Oct. 30.
• Checkers forward Jerome Samson had a seven-game point streak (4g, 6a) snapped on Friday. It was the longest current run in the AHL and the fourth seven-game streak of his five-year professional career. Six of the seven games came on the road, tying him with Hershey’s Keith Aucoin for the longest road streak by any player this season. He came one game shy of tying his career high eight-game streak set with Albany in 2009-10.
Samson, the AHL’s leader in shots on goal with 76, is tied for Checkers’ lead in points (14) while leading the team in goals (7) and power-play goals (3). Since the end of his point streak, he has been held scoreless in two consecutive games, marking his longest drought of the season.
• Goalie Justin Peters has made a successful return from injury, allowing just one goal in each of his last two starts. During that stretch, he has stopped 84 of 88 shots to post a .954 save percentage and 1.34 goals-against average. For the season, HIS .924 save percentage ranks tied for 10th in the AHL, while his 2.36 goals-against average checks in at 17th.
Fellow netminder Mike Murphy, who has started nine of the Checkers’ 15 games this season, ranks tied for fourth in the AHL in wins (6), sixth in save percentage (.932), 12th in goals-against average (2.18) and eighth in total saves (276). The third-year pro has recorded six of the Checkers’ nine victories this season, and is one of just three goaltenders to have stopped all comers in the shootout (5-5).
• Known more for his prowess with the gloves off, Checkers forward Justin Soryal scored his second goal of the season in Saturday’s win in Oklahoma City. That tally, his second of the season, has him on pace to score 10 goals, which would double his career high set two seasons ago with Hartford. Soryal, who recorded 25 penalty minutes in his first eight games as a Checker, has posted just five in his subsequent seven games while recording 3 points (2g, 1a). Three of his 13 career AHL goals have been game-winners.
• Nov. 7 – LW Drayson Bowman reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
• Nov. 7 – C Zac Dalpe recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
• Nov. 7 – C Warren Peters recalled to Minnesota (NHL) from Houston