After a sloppy first period, the Checkers battled back hard to ensure they earned a point against the league-leading Oklahoma City Barons. One bad play was all it took to prevent them from getting two.
Playing their final contest before a nine-day break between games, the Checkers got two goals from Jon Matsumoto and another from Zac Dalpe in an eventual 4-3 loss at Time Warner Cable Arena Tuesday night. Matsumoto’s second, a power-play goal in the second period, would tie the game and set the stage for overtime, where Mark Arcobello won it after a costly turnover in the Checkers’ zone.
The Checkers finish the pre-holiday portion of their schedule having taken three of a possible four points against the AHL’s top team in Oklahoma City, which improved its record to 21-7-2.
“Once we got through the first period, I thought we played pretty well,” said Charlotte coach Jeff Daniels. “I thought we had a real good, strong third period, played hard and at a high pace but couldn't score, and then we had a tough turnover to win the game.”
Arcobello’s winner, his third goal of the season, was set up when a drop pass by Zach Boychuk was intercepted as the Checkers were attempting to break up ice. The second-year pro made no mistake when given the opportunity, putting a shot past goalie Mike Murphy, who disrupted another chance that developed in similar circumstances towards the end of regulation.
Murphy would finish the night with 22 saves, two fewer than Oklahoma City’s David LeNeveu, in a game that featured fewer shots than the final score might suggest.
“It’s tough, but you can learn a lesson there,” said Checkers captain Brett Sutter of the winning goal. “If we had played better in the first 20 minutes, we may not have been in that situation to begin with.”
The Checkers’ opening period featured a little bit of everything, with the teams combining to score five goals. Three of those were by the Barons, erasing Dalpe’s opening goal with just 2:05 elapsed to take a lead into the first intermission.
Dalpe’s goal, in which he came down the left boards with speed, fought off a defender and finished from a sharp angle, broke an eight-game drought that tied the longest of his two-year professional career.
“It was good to get the monkey off my back," he said. "It obviously wasn’t the result we wanted, but I think there are a lot of positives we can draw from it."
The Barons would take a 2-1 lead with a pair of goals just 44 seconds apart, one of them shorthanded, before Matsumoto tied the game on the team’s first penalty shot of the season less than one minute later. Hunter Tremblay would then respond for the visitors just over a minute and a half after that, bringing the combined total to four goals in 3:15 of game action.
“It was sloppy,” said Daniels. “It was loose, and it looked like two teams that were ready for the Christmas break.”
“It’s tough for guys on the bench to get in any kind of rhythm,” added Dalpe.
The shorthanded goal scored by Ryan O’Marra, in which he beat forward Chris Terry in a one-on-one situation in front of Murphy, was the fourth the Checkers have allowed during the month of December, bringing their season total to five. That ties them with two other teams for the second-most allowed in the AHL.
“We’re trying to force plays at times, and that gets you away from your structure,” said Daniels.
“They’re back breakers,” said Sutter.
Things calmed down for the rest of the game as the teams began to settle in, with Matsumoto’s 13th goal of the season, in which he went around a defender before roofing one past LeNeveu, the only tally before Arcobello’s winner. The goal gave the Checkers power-play markers in five consecutive games, their longest such stretch of the season.
Sometime between scoring his second goal and the end of the second period, Matsumoto suffered an injury that prevented him from returning to the game in the third. Coupled with the loss of Riley Nash midway through the final period, the Checkers had just 10 forwards at their disposal for the final portion of the game.
“We lost two centermen, and all of the sudden you’re scrambling,” said Daniels.
The Checkers coach said that both players would be evaluated when they return to practice following the holiday break. The team will not return to action until it makes a two-game road trip to Rockford and Chicago beginning Dec. 30.
NOTES: The Checkers are 3-1-1 against Oklahoma City this season, and are one of two teams (Milwaukee: 1-0-0) to hold a winning record against the Barons this season … The Barons’ Hunter Tremblay earned an assist on his team’s shorthanded goal, giving him a league-leading 4 shorthanded points. He pulled out of a tie with the Checkers’ Mathieu Roy, among others … Prior to Tuesday, Dalpe’s last goal came against Texas on Nov. 30 … Tuesday marked Matsumoto’s second multi-goal game of the season and first since scoring two in the season opener on Oct. 7 … Forwards Cedric McNicoll and Justin Shugg sat out due to injury, with defenseman Chris Murray a healthy scratch … Fans voted Matsumoto winner of the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game award.