February 17, 2012 9:43 PM
In an effort to avenge a lopsided loss from last week, the Checkers were looking for a fast start in Peoria. That's exactly what they got.
Charlotte scored twice in the game’s first four minutes and never looked back in an eventual 4-2 win over the Rivermen on Friday. Zac Dalpe, Zach Boychuk, Justin Shugg and Michal Jordan scored for the Checkers, who are now seven points ahead of Peoria in the Midwest Division race.
The win provided a welcome turnaround from the Checkers’ first-ever visit to Peoria last Saturday, when they allowed a season-high 47 shots in a 5-2 loss. In Friday’s rematch, John Muse made 26 saves to improve 9-2-0 on the season as Charlotte won the shot battle by a 30-28 margin.
In addition to earning a measure of revenge from the last meeting, Charlotte was also looking to reverse its first regulation losing streak in two months, a two-game slide that began in the same building. Dalpe set the tone from the outset, scoring just 53 seconds into the game when he found the rebound of a shot by Shugg and put it past goalie Jake Allen from the left side.
Exactly three minutes later, Boychuk would extend the lead when he came up the left wing and fired a wrist shot from the circle that beat Allen at the far post. Allen, Peoria’s usual backup, was making his first start since Jan. 28 as normal starter Ben Bishop, one of the AHL’s top netminders, was resting in anticipation of a potential recall to the NHL’s St. Louis Blues.
The goal was the second in three games for Boychuk, who had previously endured a 10-game drought. He would later add an assist, giving him 4 points (2g, 2a) during an active three-game point streak.
Joining Boychuk in the 2-point club on Saturday were A.J. Jenks (2a) and Justin Shugg (1g, 1a), the latter of which was playing his first AHL game since suffering an injury with the Checkers on Dec. 15. Shugg, a 20-year-old rookie, scored the Checkers’ third goal of the first period as he roofed a backhand over Allen from in close.
Shugg, who the Checkers recalled from the ECHL’s Florida Everblades on Thursday, now has 6 points (2g, 4a) in his last six AHL games. Those represent the only points of his AHL career, as he previously went scoreless in his first eight games with Charlotte.
Though the 3-0 score would hold through the second period, things began to get wild in the third. Evgeny Grachev sparked his team by scoring just 32 seconds in when he came down the right side and stuffed a shot through Muse. Minutes later, Checkers defenseman Michal Jordan would score his first goal since Nov. 18 on a shot that trickled through Allen’s legs, but Riverman leading scorer T.J. Hensick responded just 18 seconds later on a chip over Muse’s glove as he walked in alone.
As wild as that flurry was, it would mark the end of the night’s scoring. Boychuk had a chance to add his second of the night on a breakaway chance that saw him beat Allen on a deke only to shoot wide, while Matthew Pistilli missed two chances at the empty net that could have iced the game a few seconds early.
Though Charlotte’s victory allowed it to put Peoria at a safer distance for the time being, it will get no chance to rest in the divisional race. The Checkers immediately head to Chicago for a back-to-back set against the Wolves, who trail them by four points with two games in hand.
NOTES: The Checkers improved to 3-1-0 against Peoria this season. They will meet four more times this season … Jordan’s goal, his fourth of the season, ended a 34-game drought. He also finished with a game-best plus-3 rating … Jenks has 4 points (1g, 3a) in his last six games after recording no points in his first 30 … Boychuk had a game-high four penalty minutes … Both teams went scoreless in four power-play chances … Forwards Chris Durno and Riley Nash, defenseman Chris Murray and goalie Mike Murphy missed the game due to injury.