Though they lost ground in the playoff race over the weekend, the Checkers have a chance to get it right back as they begin a back-to-back series with the Peoria Rivermen tonight at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Charlotte (32-22-8) will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing weekend that saw it lose two home games to the red-hot Norfolk Admirals by a combined score of 12-2. Meanwhile, Peoria (35-26-3) hopes to build on a four-game winning streak that has enabled it to leapfrog the Checkers in the Midwest Division standings. The Rivermen enter the game as the Western Conference’s No. 6 seed, one point ahead of the No. 7 Checkers, though the Checkers have played two fewer games.
Tonight’s game marks the Rivermen’s first visit to Charlotte since the Checkers picked up a sweep in their first two home games of the season on Oct. 15 and 16. Charlotte will still make two more visits to Peoria to conclude the eight-game season series.
It didn’t take long for the Checkers to switch their focus from last weekend towards the week ahead. Though they acknowledge plenty of things they can improve upon as a team, they’re left to tip their cap to the Admirals and their record-breaking, 18-game winning streak and instead turn to the match-up with Peoria.
"We’ve just got to regroup and move on,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “It’s over and done with, so we’ve got to come in with our heads up and a positive attitude.”
“It’s one of those where you just hit the erase button,” said center Zac Dalpe.
Prior the recent Norfolk series, Peoria was responsible for one of the Checkers’ most lopsided losses of the season – a 5-2 setback on Feb. 11 that saw the Rivermen finish with a 47-24 shots advantage. Charlotte has since had its revenge in the form of a 4-2 victory less than a week later, giving it a 3-1-0 advantage in the first half of the match-up.
The Checkers may still be missing two defensemen due to injury, but they get at least one, Bobby Sanguinetti, back from the NHL. Sanguinetti, the Checkers’ second-highest scorer with 37 points (8g, 29a) in 50 games, returned Monday evening after a single-game stint with Carolina that caused him to miss Sunday’s 5-0 loss to Norfolk.
On Monday, Daniels said that Mathieu Roy had a chance of returning for tonight’s game, while Justin Krueger will remain out with an upper-body concern. One or both of Ryan Donald and Brandon Gentile, who the team brought in from the ECHL on a recall and tryout contract, respectively, could exit the lineup after playing Sunday.
In goal, Mike Murphy and Justin Peters are expected to split the series with Peoria as usual. Peters has appeared in each of the last two games after making a relief appearance on Friday and a start on Sunday. Update: Peters will start tonight.
6th Western Conference
GOALS / GAME
GOALS ALLOWED / GAME
PIM / GAME
It’s been just a little over a month since Charlotte last faced Peoria, but the team has experienced significant changes during that time.
Perhaps most notable is the absence of standout goalie Ben Bishop, who is now the starter for the NHL’s Ottawa Senators following a move just prior to the trade deadline. Jake Allen, who allowed four goals on 30 Checkers shots in the teams’ last meeting, has started each of the team’s last nine games, including an excellent three-game run in which he’s stopped 109 of 111 shots (.982 save percentage) with one shutout.
Up front, former Carolina Hurricane Patrick O’Sullivan has enjoyed a hot start to his Rivermen career following a trade that sent Brett Sterling to Portland. Though Sterling was Peoria’s No. 2 scorer at the time of the AHL transaction with 46 points in 53 games, O’Sullivan has exceeded that pace with nine points (3g, 6a) in his first five games with Peoria. O’Sullivan played 10 games with Carolina to begin last season before the Minnesota Wild claimed him on waivers.
Joining O'Sullivan on offense are T.J. Hensick, who ranks fifth in AHL scoring with 65 points, and Adam Cracknell, who has goals in each of his last five games.
Unlike Charlotte, Peoria did not play over the weekend. They last suited up for a 3-1 win against Chicago last Wednesday that gave them temporary control over the Midwest Division lead before Chicago claimed it themselves via its win against Lake Erie on Saturday.
LEAN STRETCH: The Checkers have just two regulation victories in their last 10 games (2-4-4), marking the fewest in any 10-game segment in the team’s two-year history. The current run falls one win short of the previous mark, which was set during the club’s inaugural 10 games from Oct. 9-30, 2010 (3-6-1). Last season’s stretch still represents the fewest points earned during any 10-game segment (7).
SHUTOUTS: Opposing teams have shut out the Checkers five times in 62 games this season, which is one more shutout than they encountered in 80 games last season. After finishing last season ranked tied for second in the AHL with an average of 3.31 goals per game, the Checkers now rank 19th with an average of 2.74.
TOUGH LOSSES: Until suffering back-to-back 7-2 and 5-0 losses at the hands of the Norfolk Admirals on Friday and Sunday, the Checkers had not lost by more than four goals in the team’s two-year history. Charlotte had not lost by more than three goals at any time this season, with all of its four-goal losses coming during its inaugural campaign last season.
SANGUINETTI STARS: Defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti assisted on both Checkers goals on Friday, giving him five points (1g, 4a) in his last two games and nine points (2g, 7a) in his last seven. Though he has missed 12 games, Sanguinetti ranks second on the Checkers in scoring with 37 points (8g, 29a) in 50 games and is on pace to set new AHL career highs in goals (10), assists (37) and points (47).
BOYCHUK IN BUNCHES: Charlotte’s Zach Boychuk recorded his fourth two-goal game of the season on Friday, tying him with Jerome Samson for the most multi-goal games of any Checkers player this season. Boychuk has now found the back of the net 16 times this season, with multi-goal games accounting for exactly half of that total. Boychuk has one career hat trick, one of two in team history, which was registered at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Jan. 23 of last season.
• (D) Mathieu Roy – missed two games, last played March 11 vs. Chicago
• (LW) Justin Soryal – missed two games, last played March 11 vs. Chicago (out for season)
• (D) Justin Krueger - missed nine games, last played Feb. 18 at Chicago
• March 19 – (D) Bobby Sanguinetti reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
• March 18 – (D) Ryan Donald recalled to Charlotte from Florida (ECHL)
• March 18 – (D) Bobby Sanguinetti recalled to Carolina (NHL) from Charlotte
• March 16 – (RW) Jerome Samson reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
• March 16 – (D) Bobby Sanguinetti reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)