The Checkers hope for a repeat of one of their most impressive wins of the season as they host the Oklahoma City Barons for the second time in as many nights.
Despite the fact that the Barons come into tonight’s rematch retaining their hold on the AHL’s best record (34-15-5), Charlotte (31-19-5) has dominated the season series to this point, going 5-1-1. That includes Friday’s 6-2 victory, which was the only meeting of the season series to be decided by more than two goals.
Thanks to that victory and the Chicago Wolves’ loss in Rockford, the Checkers’ Midwest Division lead now stands at three points. Tonight’s game is the last of eight meetings with Oklahoma City.
Tonight's game can be seen on Time Warner Cable channel 520.
Against the league’s best defensive team and one of its best goalies, the Checkers tied a season high with six goals on Friday, with A.J. Jenks scoring twice to record the first multi-goal game of his professional career.
The goals gave Jenks 7 points (4g, 3a) in his last nine games after starting the season scoreless in his first 30 contests, most of which came prior to a January trade from the Florida Panthers organization.
“It took a little while but it’s coming around, and it comes with opportunity too,” said Jenks, who added that he had never spent much time on the power play until joining the Checkers. “I think that’s definitely been one of the reasons I’m seeing a little bit of production.”
Jenks was backed up by a balanced attack on Friday, with Matthew Pistilli, Brett Sutter, Chris Terry and Justin Shugg also finding the back of the net. By the end of the night, 12 of 18 Charlotte skaters had recorded at least one point, with Pistilli and defenseman Joe Sova adding 2 assists apiece.
Though the Checkers are certain to start the game with two goaltenders – something they could not claim for two periods on Friday as tryout signing Dave Caruso experienced flight delays – John Muse will likely get another start after making 26 saves Friday to improve to 10-3-1 this season. The rookie now has a 1.80 goals-against average and .940 save percentage at the AHL level this season.
The team faces more questions on defense, with Rasmus Rissanen leaving Friday’s game in the first period and not returning after a hard crash into the boards. The team was already playing without his defensive partner, Justin Krueger, meaning that it would need to find help from elsewhere in order to dress six blueliners tonight. Chris Murray, who is on the roster but has been out since Jan. 17, has resumed practicing with the team but had not yet been cleared for contact as of Friday morning.
OKLAHOMA CITY STATS
1st Western Conference
GOALS / GAME
GOALS ALLOWED / GAME
PIM / GAME
The Barons, who entered the game with the league’s second-best penalty kill, were not the most likely candidates to help the Checkers break out of a 1-for-21 slump on the power play, but the home team nonetheless tied another season best by converting three times on seven chances.
Two of those goals came against starter David LeNeveu, who saw his goals-against average fall from 2.00 to 2.14 after Friday’s game but still leads all active AHL goalies in that category. LeNeveu has split the Barons’ workload with fellow veteran Yann Danis for much of this season, but with Danis currently with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, it’s likely that the former will start for the second consecutive night. Olivier Roy made his first AHL appearance of the season and first since the 2009-10 season in relief of LeNeveu on Friday, making 18 saves on 20 shots.
Friday’s loss was the Barons’ third in their last five games, tying for their least successful five-game stretch of the season. However, in between those segments, they showed what they’re capable of by rattling off seven consecutive wins, a streak that was halted by the Checkers on Feb. 3. That kind of form is more of what the Checkers are expecting tonight.
“They’re in first place for a reason, and I’m sure they’ll try to show that,” said Daniels.
• GOALS GALORE: The Checkers’ six goals against Oklahoma City on Friday tied two previous occurrences (at Norfolk on Nov. 23; vs. Grand Rapids on Jan. 17) for the most they’ve scored in a single game this season. Not including shootout goals, they tied or topped that mark eight times last season, including a team-record, 10-goal performance against Syracuse on Dec. 6, 2010.
• POWER SURGE: Prior to tying a season high with three power-play goals on Friday, the Checkers had scored just one man-advantage goal in their last seven games (1-for-21). The Checkers, who have the league’s third-best power play (21.1 percent) have now scored three power-play goals in a single game five times this season. Newcomers A.J. Jenks (2g) and Joe Sova (1a) each recorded the first power-play points of their professional careers on Friday.
• PENALTY KILL: The Checkers have allowed just two power play goals over their last 11 games, killing 41 out of 43 penalties during that span (95.3 percent). For the season, the Checkers, who are 16-for-16 over their last five contests, rank 4th in the AHL with a 85.4 percent success rate.
• WELCOME BACK SHUGG: After suffering an injury with the Checkers on Dec. 15, rookie forward Justin Shugg recorded 4 points (3g, 1a) in his first four games back with the team following a recall from the ECHL’s Florida Everblades. Shugg, a 20-year-old, fourth-round draft pick by the Hurricanes in 2010, now has 8 career AHL points, all of which have come in his last nine games following an eight-game drought to start the season.
• John Muse has started each of the Checkers’ last five games (Feb. 12-24; 2-2-1)
• Zac Dalpe has assists and points in each of his last two games (Feb. 19-24; 2a)
• Justin Shugg has goals and points in each of his last two games (Feb. 19-24; 2g)
• Chris Terry has assists and points in each of his last two games (Feb. 19-24; 1g, 2a)
• A.J. Jenks has goals and points in each of his last two games (Feb. 19-24; 3g)
• Mathieu Roy has assists and points in each of his last two games (Feb. 19-24; 2a)
• Evgenii Dadonov has assists and points in each of his last two games (Feb. 19-24; 2a)
• (D) Justin Krueger - missed two games, last played Feb. 18 at Chicago
• (C) Riley Nash – missed six games, last played Feb. 10 at Milwaukee
• (D) Chris Murray – missed 14 games, last played Jan. 17 vs. Grand Rapids
• (C) Chris Durno – missed 22 games, last played Dec. 31 at Chicago
• Feb. 22 – (G) Mike Murphy recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
• Feb. 20 – (G) Dave Caruso released from professional tryout contract
• Feb. 21 – (C) Ryan Martindale recalled to Oklahoma City from Stockton (ECHL)
• Feb. 20 – (G) Olivier Roy recalled to Oklahoma City from Stockton (ECHL)
• Feb. 20 – (G) Yann Danis recalled to Edmonton (NHL) from Oklahoma City