March 19, 2012 12:04 PM
The Checkers may have just suffered the two worst losses in their brief history over the course of a single weekend, but one wouldn’t necessarily be able to figure that out based on the aftermath.
Given the circumstances – specifically, a pair of five-goal losses to Norfolk in which they were out-scored by a combined total of 12-2 – Monday’s practice was remarkably upbeat for a team that fell from a division lead and a No. 3 seed down to seventh in its conference in less than a week.
The reason? Two more big games on the schedule beginning Tuesday.
“We’ve just got to regroup and move on,” said coach Jeff Daniels, whose team is preparing for a back-to-back set against the Peoria Rivermen. “It’s over and done with, so we’ve got to come in with our heads up and a positive attitude.”
“Today was supposed to be a light skate, but I thought we were sharp after the weekend we just had,” said center Zac Dalpe. “It would have been easy to come in here feeling down, but at the end of the day that’s not going to help you.”
Though aware of where they are in the standings after taking their place in Norfolk’s record-breaking, 18-game winning streak, the Checkers might not take much more from the weekend than that.
“It’s one of those where you just hit the erase button,” said Dalpe.
The Rivermen are one of the teams Charlotte is now chasing both in the division and the conference. The Checkers trail by one point heading into Tuesday’s clash, which is the fifth in the eight-game season series. Peoria has played two more games, giving them 12 left on the schedule compared to Charlotte’s 14.
While the Rivermen come in with momentum after winning each of their last four games, Charlotte is hoping to snap out of a run that has produced just two wins in its last 10 games. Though the losses against Norfolk didn’t help, the Checkers don’t necessarily feel they were indicative of a longer slump that saw them record some solid efforts, including four losses by way of overtime or shootout.
“We played well in some of those losses and had one of our better games of the year against Chicago when we won 4-0,” said Daniels of his team’s record prior to playing Norfolk. “We’ve done a lot of good things.”
After acknowledging that time was running out for good efforts that produce less than the desired result, Dalpe said one area the Checkers could improve upon is responding to adversity – something he discussed with media even before the team suffered a visible sag after a series of unfortunate breaks went against them on Sunday.
“A couple of bad bounces rattled the chain,” said Dalpe. “We can’t let one goal or bad play drag us down for the rest of the game.
"We’re going to get out of this soon. I have a lot of faith in the guys on this team."
After a dangerous mix of absences on defense and the AHL’s best offensive team played out exactly as they might have feared over the weekend, the Checkers may or may not get help on the blue line in time to face another high-scoring team in Peoria. Mathieu Roy (injury) and Bobby Sanguinetti (NHL recall) are questionable, while Justin Krueger will certainly remain out for at least another week.
Despite playing three games with Carolina over the last week, Sanguinetti only missed Sunday’s Checkers game. The void left by the team’s second-highest scorer and best two-way defenseman was noticeable during the 5-0 loss.
“What he brings is something we don’t have a lot of right now,” said Daniels. “He’s a more offensive guy with the way he moves the puck and joins the rush, where the other guys we have are more stay-at-home.”
If Roy can’t play and Sanguinetti stays with the Hurricanes, the latter of which will depend on the health of Carolina’s Joni Pitkanen and Jaroslav Spacek, ECHL recall Ryan Donald and professional tryout signing Brandon Gentile would remain in the lineup.
According to his junior team in Lethbridge, Daniels and the player himself via Twitter, forward prospect Brody Sutter is planning to arrive in Charlotte on Tuesday to begin his professional career. Sutter’s team concluded its regular season on Saturday without qualifying for the playoffs.
Sutter, cousin to Checkers forward Brett Sutter and Hurricanes center Brandon Sutter, joined the organization as a seventh-round pick in the 2011 draft. A 6-foot-5, 203 pound winger who played alongside Zach Boychuk for one season with Lethbridge, the youngest Sutter had 60 points (30g, 30a) as team captain this season.
While Daniels will likely make an effort to dress his newest addition for at least a game or two, Sutter may not contribute right away. With the team near full-strength up front (only Drayson Bowman remains with Carolina), even the more experienced Justin Shugg has had to sit out the last two games as a healthy scratch.
If nothing else, Sutter will gain experience to prepare him for next season, which is similar to what Rasmus Rissanen and others have done in the past. Rissanen, now a key part of the Checkers’ defense, played just one game after arriving in Charlotte at the conclusion of his junior career with the Everett Silvertips last season.