Checkers win home opener, but lose two of three on the week

Even with the Hurricanes currently locked out, there is a lot of excitement in the air for hockey in the Carolinas right now and most of it surrounding the club’s AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers. Heading into this weekend, Charlotte was riding high with a 6-2-0-1 record before even playing a game at home and were getting some absurd production from a few players who many thought would have a shot at making the NHL this year. No club in the AHL had scored more goals than the Charlotte Checkres and only the Abbotsford Heat had a higher goal differential than them. Charlotte was pictured to have a strong team this year, but not many thought they would be this good so early in the year.

In my recap last week, I mentioned that while the Checkers appear to be legimiately a good team, they are getting very lucky in a few areas, namely shooting percentage and powerplay production. The Checkers have a couple players with absurdly high shooting percentage, the most notable player being Drayson Bowman, who was seeing over 30% of his shots turn into goals at one point this year, and those weren’t a safe bet to continue in the long run. Just like the Checkers powerplay couldn’t continue to click at over a 35% success rate over the course of a whole season. I’m pretty sure that everyone knows this, though and when those percentages eventually do come back down to earth, we will see what this Checkers team is fully made of. Any team can ride off high percentages, but depth and strong even strength production is what ultimately prospers in the long-run.

The Checkers don’t have much of a problem as far as depth is concerned, but can they still win games if their powerplay goes through a dry spell? We will find out soon enough, and we got a brief taste of it over the last week when the Checkers endured what was, arguably, their toughest three-game stretch of the year. They ended up dropping two of three games and saw their powerplay go 1/11 over three games. This is only three games and the Checkers still scored nine goals, so there offense didn’t completely fizzle out and there isn’t much to be pessimistic about but it’s always disappointing to end the week on a losing note.

After the jump, we’ll go into the details of the week that was for the Checkers. 

Before making their home debut, the Checkers had one final road game against the Milwaukee Admirals where they ended up taking only their second regulation loss on the season. Charlotte’s powerplay ultimately let them down in this game, as Milwaukee took three third period penalties and the Checkers couldn’t make them pay. It would come back to haunt them later in the period when the score was tied at four until Daniel Bang scored with less than 10 minutes remaining to give the Admirals a lead they wouldn’t surrender. The Checkers put forth a good effort to try to send it into overtime by producing 12 shots on goal in the third period but it was all for not as they ended the road trip with a 5-4 loss. This was also Dan Ellis’ worst game as a Checker as he allowed five goals on 30 shots.

Ellis had been very solid previously but he definitely did not have it that night, which opened up the door for Justin Peters on Sunday afternoon in the Checkers home debut against the Charlotte Wolves. Peters would take full advantage of his opportunity by stopping 27 of the 28 shots he faced. He also received plenty of support from the boys in front with the Checkers scoring three unanswered goals in the second and third periods and outshooting the Wolves 34-28. Bobby Sanguinetti and Justin Faulk recorded two points a piece that night but much of the talk that game was centered around Drayson Bowman, who scored his 9th goal of the season and his 8th goal is as many games. He is now second in the AHL in goals scored behind Roman Horak of the Abbotsford Heat.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and Bowman’s goal-scoring streak did just that on Tuesday night in Charlotte’s second game of the series against the Wolves. Despite getting three shots on goal, Bowman was held without a point in this game and the Checkers ended up losing 2-1. This was easily Charlotte’s ugliest performance of the season as they were also outshot 43-25 on their home ice and were thoroughly outplayed for most of the night. It took a valiant performance from goaltender Dan Ellis to keep this game in reach for Charlotte but the offense just wasn’t there for whatever reason. Chicago has been able to establish a good record based on strong defensive play and goaltending and it appeared that system worked well against Charlotte on Tuesday night.

Losing two of three games is never good, but it wasn’t all gloom and doom for the Checkers this week, as many of their players are still continuing to post impressive offensive numbers. Bowman added another two goals to his total this week and also recorded a staggering 14 shots on goal in three games. I mentioned that Bowman’s shooting percentage is prone to some serious regression, but he may continue to post some great boxcar numbers if he continues to get shots on net at a high pace.

Another player who is continuing to defy odds lately is team captain Brett Sutter, who was able to build off his hat-trick from last week with two more goals and an assist to boot. Sutter now has a five-game point streak in counting. The reason why I say he is “defying odds” is because he is seeing similar shooting luck to Bowman, only he is getting the puck on net much less often. Bowman scoring once every fourth time he shoots the puck is unlikely, but Sutter continuing to score every 2-3 times he shoots the puck is even more unlikely. Hey, enjoy it while it lasts is what I say.

While the goal-totals of Bowman and Sutter are impressive, it is nothing compared to the year Justin Faulk is having so far. Faulk added another four points to his total this year and now had 13 points in 9 games and is only two points the AHL’s leading scorer Justin Schultz. He also registered 10 shots on goal over the weekend, continuing to be a force offensively from the blue-line. Faulk being able to excel in the AHL shouldn’t surprise anyone since he played most of last season at the NHL, but with that option currently unavailable, the AHL is all that is open to Faulk and he is currently blowing away his competition. Faulk has been so good that fellow blue-liner, Bobby Sanguinetti’s three-point series against Chicago went virtually unnoticed. He was very good in the Chicago series after sitting out Wednesday night’s game with an illness.

Another performance of note was Jared Staal scoring his first goal of the year in his season debut on Wednesday night against Milwaukee. Chris Terry also scored his fifth goal of the season on Tuesday night after sitting out three games with a suspension. Zac Dalpe and Jerome Samson were held without a goal this week despite recording approximately three shots on net per game. Dalpe was due for some regression since he was shooting around 20% on the year but Samson has just not been able to catch a break this year for whatever reason. I think he will have an offensive outburst sooner or later if continues to produce enough offense.

Charlotte still holds a three point lead over the Houston Aeros, so their top spot in the South Division is safe for now. They also have a two-game series against Peoria this weekend, the team they blew out twice on the road a couple weeks ago. Peoria has not been a good team this year, but they are going to be looking for some revenge this weekend after getting embarrassed by the Checkers in their own arena on two different occasions, so Charlotte can not take them lightly. After this, the Checkers return to the road to take on a couple of South Division foes in San Antonio and Houston.