The Checkers can walk away with their heads held a little higher than at any other point during their losing streak, but relief hasn’t come quite yet.
Despite out-shooting the division rival Chicago Wolves 41-25 on Thursday night at Time Warner Cable Arena, the Checkers left with a 2-1 defeat that extended their losing run to a season-high four games, tying the team record set last season. Defenseman Mathieu Roy gave his team a 1-0 lead late in the first period, but the Wolves rallied back to score the winner with 5:41 left in regulation.
The game marked the second in a row that the Checkers had put more than 40 shots on goal, as they’ve posted a total of 86 in back-to-back losses.
“It’s funny, sometimes you win games you don’t deserve to, and then you lose games you’re supposed to win,” said forward Zac Dalpe, who recorded five shots. “Nothing against Chicago, but I thought we played a great game.”
The flip side of the Checkers’ high shot totals in their last two contests is that they’ve only scored two goals. Over the course of the four-game losing streak, they’ve found the back of the net just three times.
“We just have to stick with it,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “Obviously the guys are frustrated, but we can’t start cheating and getting lazy.
“We have a lot of guys that can score goals, but right now they’re all kind of going through a slump together.”
After spending much of the last week dwelling on poor efforts that have popped up over the last week, the Checkers came out strong to start the first period. When the buzzer sounded, the Checkers held a 19-4 advantage in shots, with the Wolves not getting their first shot against Charlotte’s Mike Murphy until nearly the seven-minute mark, prompting coach Craig MacTavish to call an early timeout.
Charlotte kept applying the pressure, culminating in Roy’s power-play marker, his third goal of the season, with 1:59 left in the opening frame when he took a point-to-point pass from Michal Jordan and blasted a shot past Eddie Lack.
“We had a good first period, but you’re a little worried that you’ve only got the one goal to show for it,” said Daniels.
Rookie forward Justin Shugg, playing his first game after Tuesday’s recall from the ECHL’s Florida Everblades, assisted on the goal but would have to leave the game for good midway through the second period following a hard hit along the boards from Chicago’s Mike Duco. Shugg stayed on the bench for the remainder of the period, but did not return for the third.
Following the game, Daniels said that he did not have an update on Shugg’s status for Friday night’s rematch with the Wolves, adding that Thursday scratch Matthew Pistilli would re-enter the lineup if he was unable to play.
Roy’s goal would be the only blemish on Lack’s night, as he stood tall while giving his team time to tie the game through Bill Sweatt’s two-on-one goal in the second period and Jordan Schroeder’s quick finish as he collected a puck that the Checkers’ defense couldn’t handle and came in alone on Murphy.
The Checkers had a quality opportunity to tie the game in the final minute, when the Wolves were called for having too many men on the ice with 2:08 remaining. Charlotte enjoyed a lengthy six-on-four advantage during that stretch but, in a fitting reflection of the team’s recent scoring struggles, was unable to break through for the equalizer.
The two teams, who will face off against each other a total of eight times this season, will have an immediate rematch on Friday night. Until then, they’ll try not to let their frustrations get the best of them and continue to focus on playing the same type of game.
“The effort was way better tonight than it has been in the last three or four games,” said captain Brett Sutter. “When we start putting the puck in the net, we're going to win a lot of games.”
NOTES: Charlotte still holds a one-point lead in the Midwest Division … Murphy made 23 saves in his first game back from his first NHL recall with Carolina … Zach Boychuk took a game-high eight shots … Pistilli and defenseman Chris Murray were healthy scratches for Charlotte, with center Cedric McNicoll still recovering from a lower-body injury … Fans voted Murphy the winner of the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game award.