Checkers get back on track

The last time we had an update on the Charlotte Checkers, they were at the tail end of a rough five-game losing streak and going through a bit of a goal-scoring drought. Since that point, the tides have turned quite a bit as the Checkers have won five of their last six games and four in a row. Almost every team goes for a couple roller coaster rides over the course of a season but it seems like the Checkers have had more of an addict for extremes this year than their peers, as they picked up four impressive victories over the past week. The Checkers made a habit out of blowing out their opponents early in the year, but it was their defense that stood strong this week, allowing now more than 23 shots on goal in all four of their games.

They got things started off on a strong note last Tuesday when they defeated the Milwaukee Admirals, a team that has given them a lot of trouble as of late. Charlotte actually fell behind early in this game but rebounded nicely by grossly outplaying the Admirals in the second period, outshooting them 11-2 and getting two goals from Zac Dalpe and Tim Wallace. Justin Faulk added on another in the third period to salt it away for the Checkers, as they took home a much needed win. Faulk was very impressive as he not only scored his third goal of the season but he also tallied six shots on goal. Dalpe also created a lot of offense with five of his own and the Checkers turned in a terrific defensive effort by allowing only 21 shots and not allowing an even strength goal against.

Charlotte then went onto face Houston in a two-game series and their first win did not come easy. They started off strong by outshooting the Aeros in the first period and getting the opening goal from Nicolas Blanchard. They were then outplayed for most of the second period and allowed Houston to take the lead towards the end of the period with a goal from David McIntyre. Marco Scandella would then give Houston the lead in the third period with his first goal of the season. Charlotte had a strong comeback attempt for most of the third period and their hard work eventually payed off with Justin Faulk scoring the game-tying goal with less than 15 seconds left. Charlotte would then finish off Houston in the shootout to get the two points. Faulk chipped in another six shots on goal in this game in addition to his goal and Charlotte dominated Houston on the shot-board with a 35-22 advantage.

The next game of this series was a much less stressful affair for the Checkers as they continued to control the pace of play en route to a 3-0 shutout. Justin Shugg opened the scoring in the contest with his first goal of the season and Jeremy Welsh added another on the powerplay in the second period. Tim Wallace also got his second goal of the week, scoring the empty netter to put things away in the third period. Zach Boychuk also had an impressive performance with two assists, one of which came on Wallace’s empty netter. He had five total on the week. This was one of Charlotte’s best defensive performances on the year as they made a statement in front of the home crowd and made things easy for goaltender Dan Ellis by allowing only 23 shots on goal.

After this came one of the few games Charlotte had to play on the road this month and they made the most of it by defeating the San Antonio Rampage 2-1 on the back of goals by Drayson Bowman and Marc-Andre Gragnani. Gragnani’s goal was his first of the season and one of the only two powerplay goals the Checkers scored on the week. Gragnani has recently missed sometime with injury and there is no doubt that the Checkers are glad to have him back, as he has been a force offensively whenever he has been in the lineup. His production isn’t at the same level as Justin Faulk’s but his 10 powerplay assists is second in the AHL behind Justin Schultz of the Oklahoma City Barons, which is impressive when you consider all the time he missed.

The season is still young but it has already been quite a wild ride for the Checkers as they’ve seen a lot of ups and downs. Fortunately, there were more ups this week with the team winning all four of their games, getting production from their top names (Boychuk, Faulk, Gragnani) in addition to some secondary players (Welsh, Wallace, Shugg) and they can look back at all of these games and know that they played some of their strongest games of the year. This long home-stand didn’t go exactly the way most people had hoped, but the Checkers were able to salvage it with some strong performances towards the end and have another set of games against Peoria coming up before they return on the road to face Houston, San Antonio and Lake Erie.