Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Rivermen (36-26-3) marked Charlotte’s third loss in as many games, dropping its record to 1-4-0 during its current six-game home stand that concludes tonight. The Checkers fell to 32-23-8 on the season, good enough for the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference with 13 games left to play.
With a three-point gap now between them and Peoria, the Checkers won’t be able to move up in the standings with a win tonight. However, they can create distance from a pack of three teams that trail them by just one point – two of which are in action tonight. Otherwise, they may find themselves out of a playoff spot for the time being. heading into a weekend series at Hershey.
A recurring problem throughout the season came back to bite the Checkers once again on Tuesday, as they scored just twice on 42 shots while allowing five goals, including an empty-net tally in the last second, on a relatively small 24 attempts.
Though they already faced a discrepancy in the two categories coming in, the Checkers are now eighth in the AHL in terms of shots per game (32.0) and 19th in terms of goals per game (2.73). They have just four goals in their last three games, making it one of their leanest stretches of the season.
“You get 40 shots,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “What else can you do?”
A small group of players that can excuse themselves from recent offensive woes made once again made contributions on Tuesday. Zach Boychuk followed up on a two-goal performance last week with a power-play goal against the Rivermen, making him responsible for three of the Checkers’ last four goals. In addition, defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti recorded an assist to give him six points (1g, 5a) during an active three-game point streak, while Zac Dalpe scored for the third time in his last five games.
Players and coaches agreed after the game that effort has not been an issue for most of the team’s recent slide that has seen it go 2-5-4 in its last 11 games, but players nonetheless addressed their woes during a closed-door meeting following Tuesday’s game.
"It's not rocket science,” said goalie Justin Peters, who has appeared in each of the team’s last three games, including a 19-save effort against Peoria. “We need to do a better job as individuals of preparing ourselves.”
5th Western Conference
GOALS / GAME
GOALS ALLOWED / GAME
PIM / GAME
Not helping the Checkers’ cause is the fact that seemingly every one of their recent opponents has been at the top of its game. The Rivermen are certainly no different, as Tuesday’s win marked their fifth in a row and allowed them to tie Chicago for a Midwest Division lead that until recently belonged to the Checkers.
After struggling in the previous meeting with Charlotte on Feb. 17, goalie Jake Allen continued to be a big story for the resurgent Rivermen, who have enjoyed a strong second half following a slow start. Thrust into the starting role after the parent St. Louis Blues traded Ben Bishop to the Ottawa Senators, Allen has stopped 151 of the last 155 shots against over his last four games (1.00 goals-against average, .975 save percentage). Allen has started each of Peoria’s last 10 games, including two previous sets of back-to-back contests, making it very possible that he’ll again get the nod over backup Alex Stalock.
While former Carolina Hurricane Patrick O’Sullivan scored on Tuesday to continue the six-game point streak that coincides with his arrival in Peoria via a trade with Portland (4g, 6a), it was enforcer Anthony Peluso who provided the spark on Tuesday. Peluso, who had two goals and 147 penalty minutes entering the game, doubled his scoring total with two one-one-one efforts that beat Peters in the first and second periods. The latter goal midway through the second period held up as the game winner.
Veteran Jonathan Cheechoo also found the back of the net, making him the fifth Peoria skater to hit the 20-goal mark (T.J. Hensick, Derek Nesbitt, Adam Cracknell and Phil McRae). By comparison, the Checkers have not had a single player hit that milestone, with Jerome Samson’s 18 leading the way.
LEAN STRETCH: The Checkers have just two regulation victories in their last 10 games (2-5-3), 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). It ties last year’s stretch for the fewest points earned during any 10-game segment (7).
FINISHING TOUCH: Despite ranking eighth in the AHL in terms of shots per game (32.0), the Checkers are 19th in terms of goals per game (2.73). That gives them a shooting percentage of 8.52, which is the third-lowest of any AHL team that held a playoff spot through games of March 20.
SANGUINETTI STARS: Defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti recorded an assist on Tuesday, giving him six points (1g, 5a) in his last three games and 10 points (2g, 8a) in his last eight. Though he has missed 12 games, Sanguinetti ranks second on the Checkers in scoring with 38 points (8g, 30a) in 51 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 17th goal of the season on Tuesday, bringing him within one goal of team leader Jerome Samson. Though the Checkers have scored just four goals in their last three games, Boychuk has accounted for three of those, including his fourth two-goal effort of the season on Friday.
• (D) Bobby Sanguinetti has assists and points in each of his last three games (March 16-March 20; 1g, 5a)
• (LW) Justin Soryal – missed three games, last played March 11 vs. Chicago (out for season)
• (D) Justin Krueger - missed 10 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)