Checkers drop first two games of homestand

There was a lot to be excited about with the Charlotte Checkers this weekend. The team had one of the best records in the AHL and just finished one of the toughest parts of their schedule where the majority of their games were on the road. This weekend’s series against the Oklahoma City Barons was the first set of games of a long home-stand for the Checkers where they would play 10 games at the Time Warner Cable Arena. It was also the first meeting between the new South Division rivals who are likely to have many good battles this year and in upcoming seasons. There was definitely a lot of anticipation for this matchup, but things didn’t exactly go as planned for the Checkers, as they ended up losing both games to the Barons. 

The Barons are team that I’ve talked about quite a bit on here because they have arguably the most NHL talent among teams in the American Hockey League thanks to the lockout and the Checkers got to see that first hand last weekend. The Barons outscored the Checkers by a combined score of 11-4 this weekend and outshot them 69-58. Although, most of this damage was done on Sunday afternoon when the Barons handed the Checkers their worst loss of the season by a score of 7-2. They just overpowered the Checkers in this game with their high powered offense featuring would-be NHL-ers like Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall, two of which had multi-point performances in both games. Eberle had four goals this weekend and the one most will remember is this beauty from Saturday’s game where he undressed Charlotte defenseman Rasmus Rissanen to tie the game for the Barons. Justin Schultz also factored himself into the equation with one goal and a pair of assists in both games as he continues to dominate the AHL’s scoring race.

Outside of Zach Boychuk’s two goals that put him tied for first for goals in the AHL, there are not many positive things to go over with the Checkers from that series. Both goalies played relatively poorly with Justin Peters giving up three goals on only 21 shots on Saturday night and Dan Ellis finally came crashing back down to earth on Sunday after giving up six goals on 29 shots. There wasn’t much he could do about the goals he let in, but it was still a very ugly performance. Charlotte’s defensemen also took home some ugly stat-lines from that game with the most concerning being Justin Faulk taking three penalties and getting tagged with a -5.

Some may panic about Charlotte’s two losses this weekend because they came against a divisional opponent and it puts more pressure on them now to retain their top-spot but I think it’s a bit too early to worry about that. There is still plenty of hockey left to be played and every team has their bad games. Charlotte was bound to run into a bump in the road sooner or later and that’s what we saw this weekend. Plus, it’s worth keeping in mind that the Barons not only have a lot of NHL talent on their team, but they have guys that would be playing big minutes on NHL clubs. Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins were all first-liners and among the best players on the Edmonton Oilers last year and Schultz has been at another level against AHL competition this season. Justin Faulk is the only player the Checkers have that can match up with them and we saw why this weekend. I’m interested to see how these two teams play each other in the future, especially after the lockout ends.

It wasn’t all bad out of Checkers camp despite the two losses, though. They also had a road game against the Norfolk Admirals earlier in the week, which they won 5-2 on the back of three first period goals. Zac Dalpe also had a very good week, scoring on a rebound chance against Oklahoma City and recording an astonishing 14 shots on goal over three games. He was far more effective and dynamic offensively than he had been all season long and it should get some more people excited about him. Boychuk also recorded two goals, as mentioned earlier and is now the AHL leader in goals scored with 12. Bobby Sanguinetti had a good week at the office with three assists and Michal Jordan doubled his season total with three assists of his own this past week. Drayson Bowman also netted his 11th goal of the season and Chris Terry continued his strong start to the year with a goal and a assist. Also scoring this week was Jeremy Welsh, Riley Nash, Sean Dolan and Tim Wallace.

The Checkers now have some competition in the South Division with the Barons only two points behind them in the standings. They will have a chance to gain some separation from them this upcoming weekend when they take on the Rockford IceHogs in a weekend home series. Charlotte split the earlier series against Rockford this year, so this is going to be another good test for them. Hopefully they can regain their footing after the pair of tough games against the Barons.