Checkers win two of three in the Lonestar State

Before this weekend, the Charlotte Checkers had been involved in only one shootout all season and it came on opening weekend against the Texas Stars. They ended up on the losing end of that game and found themselves in a similar situation this past weekend against the same opponent, oddly enough. The shootout wasn’t a major weakness for this team last year but they definitely had their struggles and it looked like it would continue this season after they dropped their first two shootout decisions of the year, scoring only twice in 19 attempts in the process. This mindset would fade out quickly, as the Checkers found themselves in another shootout the next night against the San Antonio Rampage and ended up getting the win in five rounds.

The shootout is unfortunately a necessary evil in professional hockey right now and it’s something the Checkers have struggled with thus far, but at the end of the day, Charlotte ended up getting five out of a possible six points on this road trip and I think most will be satisfied with that. It’s always critical to earn points against divisional opponents and the Checkers were able to do just that this weekend. Granted, they were playing the two bottom teams in the South Division, but these are still games the Checkers have to win or at least earn points in to continue to gain separation from the rest of the pack. They seem to be doing just that right now, as they currently sit six points ahead of the second place Oklahoma City Barons and are still neck-and-neck with the Abbotsford Heat for first place in the South Division.

The end result was good for the Checkers, but there are some things to be a little concerned over. The most notable one being the team getting outshot 92-87 over the three games this weekend. They weren’t getting pasted territorially, but they were still on the losing end of the shot battle against two pretty weak teams. It isn’t something to fret over since the Checkers have been good at controlling possession this year and off-games tend to happen. Still, I was expecting a more dominant performance but the Rampage really made the Checkers earn those two wins this weekend.

It actually looked like San Antonio was on their way to pulling off an upset on Friday night when they jumped out on top with two early goals. The Checkers have been in this scenario numerous times this season, though and once again, they were able to battle back and get themselves back into the game. Nicolas Blanchard got things started off with a short-handed goal that came off an odd-man rush and the Checkers just seemed to build off that.  Zac Dalpe would then tie the game early in the third period after keeping in a bad clearing attempt from the Rampage and firing home a wrist-shot. Dalpe struck again less than three minutes later as Chris Terry was able to force a turnover in the neutral zone and create an odd-man rush the other way. Jerome Samson would later ice the game with a bomb from the point for his third goal of the season.

San Antonio got off to a hot start on Sunday night, as well and took a early 1-0 lead with a goal from Greg Rallo, one that Peters would probably want to have back. Once again, though, the Checkers responded late in the first period as Jerome Samson was able to create a breakaway opportunity after exiting the penalty box. He was shut down but the Checkers were able to set up a play after this and Brett Sutter took advantage of the opportunity by scoring his sixth goal of the season. Going into the second period down 2-1, the Checkers tied the game less than a minute into the period after Zac Dalpe found Bobby Sanguinetti wide open in the slot and he fired home a laser of a wrist shot past Rampage goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris. Unfortunately, Sanguinetti would end up helping the Rampage recapture the lead after committing a bad turnover that led to a goal by Scott Timmins. Zach Boychuk would then go onto save the day for Charlotte in the third period, scoring a goal that came as the result of a terrific individual effort. Chris Terry would go onto win the game for the Checkers in the shootout and give Charlotte a weekend sweep of the Rampage.

The only thing that kept Charlotte from a complete three-game sweep of Texas this weekend was a shootout loss at the hands of the Texas Stars. The Stars had the upper-hand in shots in this game but the Checkers had plenty of chances that ended up getting shut down by goaltender Christopher Nilstrop. Their best opportunity was either Riley Nash’s breakaway or Drayson Bowman’s rebound chance that Nilstrop managed to get to just in time. That being said, Charlotte’s Dan Ellis also had to do plenty of work to keep this a tie game, as well. The Stars had a couple of odd-man rush opportunities that Ellis had to shut down and the defense was guilty of a couple of bad turnovers. Justin Krueger in particular had a bad one in the third period that ended up turning into a prime scoring chance for the Stars. In the end, the Checkers got a point and most fans will take that.

Notable performances

  • Zach Boychuk’s goal was not only a terrific play, it was his tenth goal of the season which ties him with Drayson Bowman for the team lead and with four others for the top spot in the AHL.
  • Bowman had only one assist on the weekend but he also recorded 14 shots on goal over the three games. This improves his shot rate to 3.44 shots per game on the season, which is the highest mark on the team.
  • Tommi Kivisto made his AHL debut on Sunday night after spending most of the year with the Florida Everblades.
  • Zac Dalpe has quietly been on a tear these last six games or so. He two goals and an assist in three games this weekend and he has quietly become the Checkers third leading scorer. He is also very close to recording at least three shots per game, putting him in company with only three other Charlotte players.
  • Bobby Sanguinetti had 9 shots on goal in three games this weekend. His coverage and play in his own end was very shaky this weekend, but he is at least producing as an offensive defenseman.
  • Dan Ellis’ shutout against Texas was his second of the season and he now has a save percentage of .947 on the season.

After a pre-Thanksgiving showdown against Norfolk in Wednesday, Charlotte will return to the Time Warner Cable Arena, where they will play their next 10 games. They definitely need to take advantage of this stretch coming up after playing so well on the road to start the year. They will start things off with a two-game series against their new South Division adversaries, the Oklahoma City Barons on Saturday night.