Charlotte (35-27-9) fell from eighth to 10th in the Western Conference in less than 24 hours as Abbotsford (29-26-8) began the day with a 2-1 victory at Time Warner Cable Arena. That night, Houston and Milwaukee each picked up victories to jump the Checkers in the standings with five games to go in the regular season.
With the standings still tight, a Checkers win today could potentially allow them to reclaim the eighth seed and get back into the playoff picture, while a loss could drop them yet another spot. The Checkers, who have lost three straight games compared to Abbotsford’s six-game point streak (5-0-1), are still tied for the fewest games played in the AHL.
The Checkers haven’t necessarily encountered any new problems as they continue a slide that has seen them win just six of their last 22 games, but also can’t seem to shake the same set of recurring issues.
First and foremost is the inability to score goals despite the amount of firepower in their lineup, as they have a total of just three goals during their three-game losing streak that began earlier in the week. Except for isolated breakthroughs like the nine goals they scored in two road wins last weekend, they’ve averaged around two goals per game since Feb. 18.
“All these games are around 2-1, and one goal just isn’t enough,” said coach Jeff Daniels after losing Saturday by that score.
In turn, that stretch seems to have affected the team’s ability to keep its composure during games, as a single goal against has proven to be a difficult hill to climb.
“Mentally, we’re having a tough time shaking off goals against" said Daniels. “When you’re not scoring goals it’s tough to recover from that, and we never did (Saturday).”
“We’ve been getting deflated too much when the other team scores,” said Brett Sutter. “We had a good start and the lead we wanted going into the first intermission and came out flat in the second period, and you can’t do that. You have to play 60 minutes to have a chance of winning at this time of year.”
Mike Murphy will likely get his turn in goal today after Justin Peters started each of the last two. After Saturday’s game, Daniels said that no player from the injured group of Nicolas Blanchard, Sean Dolan and A.J. Jenks was likely to return today. Defenseman Rasmus Rissanen, who returned from injury to play Saturday, appeared to aggravate his prior injury on his final shift with mere minutes left in the third period but could still play today.
4th Western Conference
GOALS / GAME
GOALS ALLOWED / GAME
PIM / GAME
Now one of the hottest teams in the league with some of the hottest players, Abbotsford has managed to create some breathing room between itself and the rest of the playoff pack in the Western Conference.
Four straight wins have given the Heat, who now sit fourth in the west, a four-point lead over fifth-place Peoria. Peoria heads a pack of six teams separated by just three points – a group that includes the Checkers.
Veteran Krys Kolanos, who had seven goals during a five-game streak coming into Saturday’s game, added to that already-impressive total by accounting for all of Abbotsford’s offense. He now has nine goals and four assists in his last six games, with only two AHL players posting longer goal streaks this season.
“They had one of the better goal scorers in the league making a difference out there,” said Daniels of Kolanos, a former first-round NHL draft choice who has 28 in just 45 games played this season.
Kolanos’ day allowed him to tie Ben Walter for the team’s scoring lead. Though he took six shots on Saturday, Walter saw his own point streak of seven games (5g, 7a) come to an end.
Though not the team’s normal starter (Leland Irving recently became a father and did not make the trip to Charlotte), Danny Taylor filled in admirably on Saturday. After not seeing Mathieu Roy’s first-period goal through a screen, he made several key stops throughout the game, including a Drayson Bowman effort from the doorstep near the final buzzer, to improve his record to 20-13-3 with a 2.37 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.
TROUBLE AT HOME: Prior to suffering two separate three-game home losing streaks since March 16 of this season, the Checkers had never failed to earn a point in three consecutive home games in their two seasons as an AHL franchise in Charlotte. Before losing six of their last seven games at Time Warner Cable Arena, the Checkers were 17-9-4 at home this season.
BOWMAN’S BACK: Now in his third professional season, forward Drayson Bowman has posted the highest scoring pace of his career at both the NHL and AHL levels. In just 37 games with the Checkers this season, Bowman, who has two points in two games since returning from the Carolina Hurricanes earlier in the week, has exceeded his total from 51 games last season. In his last nine games with Charlotte, Bowman, has 10 points (4g, 6a).
THE MAGIC NUMBER: The Checkers are 29-4-2 when scoring three or more goals this season. All four of those regulation losses were the result of games in which the team scored exactly three goals, making them 18-0-1 when scoring four or more. When the Checkers score two or fewer goals, as they have done in each game of an active three-game losing streak, they are 6-23-7.
SPECIAL SPECIAL TEAMS: The Checkers are one of two teams (Hershey) to rank in the AHL’s top five in both the power play and penalty kill. They rank fourth on the power play with a 19.9 percent success rate and fourth on the penalty kill at 84.9 percent.
• (LW) Drayson Bowman has points in each of his last two games (April 5-7; 1g, 1a)
• (C) Zac Dalpe has points in each of his last two games (April 5-7; 0g, 2a)
• (C) Sean Dolan – missed one game; last played April 5 vs. Milwaukee
• (LW) A.J. Jenks – missed three games, last played March 31 at Peoria
• (RW) Nicolas Blanchard – missed six games, last played March 24 at Hershey
• (LW) Justin Soryal – missed 11 games, last played March 11 vs. Chicago (out for season)
• April 6 – (D) Ryan Donald reassigned to Florida (ECHL) from Charlotte
• April 4 – (LW) Drayson Bowman reassigned to Charlotte from Carolina (NHL)
• April 4 – (RW) Akim Aliu recalled to Calgary (NHL) from Abbotsford
• April 2 – (G) Brandon Glover signed to amateur tryout contract
• April 1 – (D) Joey Leach signed to amateur tryout contract