February 29, 2012 1:39 PM
When it comes to special teams, few teams come close to matching what the Checkers have been able to do this season.
As of Wednesday morning, Charlotte checked in at No. 4 in the league in both the power play and penalty kill, with rates of 20.7 percent and 85.6 percent, respectively. That makes them the only AHL team to rank in the top five of both categories, each of which have gone through spectacular runs since the calendar hit 2012.
First, there’s the power play, which converted 15 of 44 chances (34.1 percent) in the latter half of January, setting a team record by scoring in nine consecutive games. Then the penalty kill picked up where that left off, allowing just one goal in the next 10 contests (37-for-38; 97.4 percent) leading up to the current day.
Though plenty of factors come into play, the secret to that success may be a well-balanced roster that lends itself to clearly-defined roles. For the most part, there isn’t much overlap at forward or defense in terms of assignments, which keeps players focused and ice times manageable.
“I think that helps because it keeps guys fresh,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “We have a few guys up front like Zac Dalpe and Chris Terry that do a little bit of both, but other than that we’ve got guys who just do one or the other and can take a lot of pride in their area.”
By and large, the Checkers’ top-scoring forwards are its key cogs on the power play, as one would expect. That makes things a bit more challenging in situations like the present, with the NHL recalls of Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk and Jerome Samson, not to mention an injury to Riley Nash, leaving the team without four of its top seven in terms of power-play goals.
“We’re going to have to change our units a bit because of call-ups, but no matter who we put out there, our message is to keep it simple and try to do the same things we’ve done all along,” said Daniels.
Other than the occasional trip to Carolina by Brett Sutter, the penalty kill has been markedly more consistent in terms of its forward personnel. Sutter, tryout signing Sean Dolan and Nicolas Blanchard, players not necessarily counted upon to score at high levels, have thrived in defensive roles.
“It helps when you have the same group of guys that have been doing it together for a while,” said Sutter. “It helps you communicate, and that makes it a lot easier.”
“Those guys know they’re going right out there when we take a penalty and are always ready to jump over the boards and get going,” said Daniels. “It’s their time to shine.”
That special teams success will be a huge positive going into the playoffs, though Daniels has often spoken of his desire to score more goals at even strength. Despite their potent power play, the Checkers rank just 16th in terms of total goals scored.
“It’s about not looking for that pretty shot and instead just getting it to the net,” said Daniels. “We’ve done a better job of that lately.”
GOALIES ON THE MOVE?
The Checkers reassigned John Muse back to the ECHL’s Florida Everblades on Wednesday, but only to play that night’s game against Kalamazoo. He is expected to return to Charlotte on Thursday and accompany the team on its two-game trip to Lake Erie this weekend.
It seems that the team could be adding another netminder in the near future, with Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller suggesting that veteran Brian Boucher could join the Checkers on a conditioning stint as he makes his recover from a lower-body injury first suffered in early December.
“As soon as we can we’d love to see him get in some games, whether it’s in Charlotte or here,” Muller told the media in Raleigh. “He’s been out a while and needs some playing time, but the first step is to get that green light to physically be ready, and then he’s got to be ready mentally.”
If he does join the Checkers, an arrangement he would have to agree to, Boucher would become the seventh goalie to dress for the team this season and the fifth to see game action. Depending on the timing of a potential visit to Charlotte, the Hurricanes would then need to make a decision regarding the status of Justin Peters down the stretch.