Charlotte (21-12-3), which now holds a four-point lead over Milwaukee by way of its head-to-head 4-3 victory on Saturday, now heads to Chicago for the second time in as many weeks. Today’s match-up will be the fourth of the season between the two clubs, with Charlotte having won each of the last two after Chicago (18-12-4) took the opener in Charlotte on Dec. 15.
Following today’s game, the Checkers return to Charlotte for a four-game home stand against Hershey and Grand Rapids that begins Jan. 15.
The Checkers pulled off one of their most thrilling comebacks in their most important game of the season to date, scoring two third-period goals in the span of just 20 seconds to erase a one-goal deficit in Milwaukee on Saturday.
With injuries (Chris Durno, Riley Nash, Mathieu Roy and Justin Shugg all missed Saturdays’ game) and NHL recalls (Justin Peters and Brett Sutter are currently with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes), the team’s remaining stars stepped up to shoulder the load. Three players who have spent significant time in the NHL this season, Zac Dalpe (2g), Zach Boychuk (1g, 1a) and Derek Joslin (2a) led the way offensively for the Checkers, who also got a goal from Nicolas Blanchard.
Though pleased with the comeback, coach Jeff Daniels said that he’ll be looking for a more complete effort against Chicago tonight.
“We played the third period like we wanted to win the game,” he said. “It was a big win for us, but for me we got away with playing a solid 20 and (tonight) we’ll need 60 minutes.”
Daniels will have to choose between established No. 1 goalie Mike Murphy, whose 29 saves against Milwaukee included several key stops in the third period to help protect the team’s lead, and rookie John Muse, who narrowly avoided a shutout as part of a 42-save effort last week.
Otherwise, with all of the team’s injured players doubtful to return for tonight’s game, the Checkers are likely to field the same lineup. That would include center Sean Dolan, a rookie who signed a professional tryout contract with the team on Friday and made his AHL debut the following night, and exclude winger Matt Beca, who has been a healthy scratch for each of the team’s last two games.
7th Western Conference
GOALS / GAME
GOALS ALLOWED / GAME
PIM / GAME
While the Checkers faced every other member of their division at least once well in advance of meeting Chicago for the first time in mid-December, they’ve come to know them very well of late. Since that initial clash on Dec. 15, the Checkers have faced off against Chicago more than any other team.
The recent string of head-to-head match-ups includes a New Year’s Eve win for the Checkers last week and a back-to-back set in Charlotte that first extended and then ended the Checkers’ season-long, four-game losing streak.
Charlotte has been something of a nemesis for Chicago over the past several weeks, having been one of just two teams (Milwaukee) to beat them in regulation during that span. The Wolves are 7-3-0 since Dec. 15, with two of those losses coming against the Checkers. That run has put them back into contention in the Midwest Division after a slow start, as they trail Charlotte by five points with two games in hand entering tonight’s match-up.
The Wolves will have a little more firepower at their disposal today, with forward Mark Mancari (27 points in 28 games) set to face the Checkers for the first time this season after being on NHL duty with the Vancouver Canucks in the previous three. In addition, leading scorer Darren Haydar is back in form following a rare slump, having factored in on all three of his teams goals on Saturday (1g, 2a).
On the back end, Kevin Connauton, who leads all AHL defensemen with 9 goals, was recently named to the AHL All-Star Classic along with Haydar.
Chicago has played just one game since New Year’s Eve, topping Lake Erie by a 3-1 score on Saturday to begin a six-game home stand. The Wolves have won six of their last seven at home, with the Checkers providing the lone loss last week.
• JOSLIN WARMING UP: Since joining the Checkers on Jan. 4 to begin a two-week conditioning stint, 24-year-old defenseman Derek Joslin has posted 3 points, all assists, in two games to lead the team in scoring during that span. Joslin, who had not played an NHL game since Dec. 15, returns to the AHL following an absence of nearly two years. In 205 career AHL games, Joslin now has 99 points (26g, 73a).
• DIVISIONAL DOMINANCE: The Checkers have taken 21 out of a possible 26 points (10-2-1) against fellow Midwest Division teams this season, good for the highest percentage (.808) of any AHL team against its own division.
• SAMSON SHOOTS, SCORES: Charlotte forward Jerome Samson, the AHL’s shots on goal leader once again with 153 in 36 games, has scored five goals in his last eight contests to reclaim the team lead in that category (15). Eight of Samson’s goals this season have come on the power play, tying him for third in the AHL. Samson, who was selected to the AHL All-Star Classic earlier this week along with teammate Jon Matsumoto, is on pace for 16 power-play goals, which would easily top his career high of 12 set during his rookie season with Albany in 2007-08.
• CHECKERS FIND MUSE: Rookie goalie John Muse stopped 42 shots in his first AHL start of the season, helping his team to a 2-1 win over San Antonio on Wednesday. In his three AHL appearances, which also include one relief appearance for the Checkers this season and a tryout start for Portland following the conclusion of his collegiate career last season, Muse now has a 1.07 goals-against average and .971 save percentage.
• HOME AND AWAY: The Checkers 26 points earned at home this season are tied with Milwaukee for most in the league. With a record of 12-5-2 this season, the AHL Checkers have improved to 34-18-6 all-time at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Checkers recently broke the .500 mark on the road for the first time since Dec. 9 and now have a season record of 9-7-1.
• The Checkers have won two consecutive games (Jan. 4-7)
• Derek Joslin has points in each of his last two games (0g, 3a)
• Jan. 7 – (LW) Drayson Bowman reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
• Jan. 6 – (F) Sean Dolan signed professional tryout agreement with Charlotte
• Jan. 5 – (D) Chris Murray reassigned to Florida (ECHL) from Charlotte
• Jan. 5 – (C) Brett Sutter recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
• Jan. 4 - (C) Zac Dalpe reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
• Jan. 4 - (D) Derek Joslin assigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
• Jan. 3 – (RW) Matt Beca recalled to Charlotte from Florida (ECHL)
• Jan. 4 – (RW) Byron Bitz assigned to Chicago from Vancouver (NHL)
• Jan. 2 – (D) Ryan Parent returned to Chicago from Spengler Cup
• Jan. 2 – (RW) Mark Mancari reassigned to Chicago from Vancouver (NHL)