The Checkers have lost their division lead – even if it’s only temporary.
Thanks to a 3-1 setback to the visiting Chicago Wolves on Saturday, Charlotte now occupies second place in the Midwest Division for the first time since the calendar turned to 2012. The Wolves now hold a one-point lead for the honor, with the two teams set to clash for the eighth and final time this season on Sunday afternoon.
The loss extended Charlotte’s winless streak to four games, though the previous three all came by way of overtime or shootout loss. Zac Dalpe scored shorthanded for the team’s only goal of the evening – a recurring theme of late.
“We’ve got to score goals,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “We're getting these chances to score goals and we're not scoring them. Right now that's the difference in our game these last few weeks."
Charlotte has scored just six times in its last four games, including back-to-back, one-goal showings. On Saturday, Chicago’s Eddie Lack stopped 24 shots to improve to 4-1-0 with a 1.52 goals-against average against Charlotte this season.
“I think the chances were there tonight,” said Checkers captain Brett Sutter, who had the lone assist on Dalpe’s goal. “We’ve just got to stick with it and get a couple of greasy ones to go in.”
On the other end, Justin Peters, making his second consecutive start for Charlotte, also made 24 saves.
Given the facts that Charlotte had not allowed a single power-play goal in its last eight games and Chicago came in with the league’s worst power play, one might not have expected the Wolves to score two of their three goals on the man advantage. However, that’s what happened when veteran Darren Haydar got his team on the board on a one-timer from the left point midway through the first period before scoring his team’s third goal on a shot from the right point two periods later.
That ended a streak of 26 consecutive penalty kills for Charlotte, which entered the contest with the AHL’s second-best penalty kill.
“It’s frustrating,” said Sutter. “They had a good look on the first one, and the other was just me being over-aggressive. Sometimes that can happen when you’re down a goal.”
The second of those two goals all but ended the Checkers’ bid to come back from a 2-1 deficit they fell into after Andrew Gordon broke a tie five minutes into the third. Charlotte had narrowly missed scoring on a power play of their own before Mathieu Roy went to the box for boarding moments later, resulting in Haydar's second.
“It was an unnecessary penalty,” said Daniels.
Charlotte, which had scored five power play goals on 16 previous chances against the Wolves this season (31.3 percent) went scoreless on four power plays of its own, but it wasn’t for lack of opportunities. To go along with two posts hit by Michal Jordan and Evgenii Dadonov in the first period, narrow misses by Matthew Pistilli, whose rebound try trickled just wide, and Dadonov, who Lack stopped on a breakaway deke, were most notable among Charlotte’s attempts.
“We had some grade-A opportunities,” said Daniels.
The only Checker to finish one of those was Dalpe, who burst into the offensive zone with speed to collect a loose puck during a Wolves’ second-period power play before finding the last bit of twine in the opposite corner over Lack’s glove with an absolute laser of a shot.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit myself, so it was good to get a little mini-monkey off my back, so to speak,” said Dalpe, who had no goals in his previous six games. “It’s a little bittersweet taste in my mouth right now, but we’ll get them tomorrow.”
Dalpe, who started the play right in front of the Checkers’ bench, said teammates told him it was a two-on-one, but he later discovered he was alone – hence the decision to shoot. It was a good one.
“I put all 195 (pounds) into that shot,” he said.
The Checkers were already facing a quick turnaround for Sunday’s 3 p.m. start, with the added wrinkle of losing an hour due to Daylight Savings' Time making it even quicker. Still, it’s a burden faced by both teams, with Charlotte eager to reclaim its division lead and break its four-game winless streak against Chicago.
“We’ve got to be ready,” said Daniels. “We’re not in first anymore, but we can be in first tomorrow.”
NOTES: The Checkers fell to 1-2-4 in their last seven games … Prior to Saturday, Charlotte had not allowed a power-play goal since Feb. 11 at Peoria … The Checkers had not allowed more than one power-play goal in a game since Jan. 24 at Norfolk … Dalpe’s shorthanded goal was his second of the season, making him the only Checkers player with multiple shorthanded goals this season. It was the Checkers’ sixth shorthanded marker of the campaign … Center Riley Nash and defensemen Justin Krueger, Chris Murray and Rasmus Rissanen all sat out due to injury. Forwards Drayson Bowman and Jerome Samson are on NHL recall with the Carolina Hurricanes … Fans voted Dalpe winner of the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game award.