SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … In an East Division which includes the two-time defending Calder Cup champions from Hershey and the AHL’s best record in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the first-year Charlotte Checkers have rebounded from a tough start to position themselves as one of the division’s most potent teams.
Charlotte lost seven of its first nine games as the Carolina Hurricanes’ top affiliate, but a 3-2 overtime win at Binghamton on Oct. 30 started an 11-2-0-2 surge over the last month. Fresh off a perfect three-game road trip last week, head coach Jeff Daniels now has his Checkers in second place in the East Division at 13-8-1-2 (29 points), five points back of the first-place Penguins. The Checkers boast the AHL’s sixth-ranked offense (3.25 goals per game) along with its sixth-best power play (20.5 percent) and second-ranked penalty kill (88.8 percent), and Charlotte has had success both at home (6-4-0-2) and on the road (7-4-1-0) through the season’s first two months.
Zach Boychuk (9-16-25) and Jerome Samson (12-12-24) are setting the offensive pace for Charlotte after 24 games. A first-round draft pick (14th overall) by Carolina in 2008 who totaled 36 points in 52 AHL games as a rookie in 2009-10, Boychuk is currently tied for third in the AHL scoring race and has a point in six straight contests (2-7-9). Samson, a Second Team AHL All-Star last year, is well on the way to recording his fourth consecutive 20-goal season to begin his pro career. Chris Terry (10-9-19) is already more than halfway to the 17 goals he scored as a rookie in 2009-10, and fourth-year pro Jacob Micflikier continues to enjoy a breakout season with identical 10-9-19 totals and a team-high plus-10 rating in 22 games, including his second career hat trick on Nov. 11 vs. Bridgeport.
A second-round draft pick of the Hurricanes in 2008, Zac Dalpe began the season in the NHL but has averaged a point per game since his Oct. 31 assignment to Charlotte, putting up 9-5-14 and a plus-8 in 14 games during that span. Third-year forward Oskar Osala, acquired in a midseason trade with Washington last year, shows 17 points (4-13-17) and a pair of game-winning goals through 24 outings. Rookie Riley Nash, a first-round pick in 2007, has 4-7-11 in his first 24 pro contests. Second-year pro Drayson Bowman (3-9-12 in 14 GP) and 2010 AHL All-Star Jon Matsumoto (4-6-10 in 12 GP) both have impressive numbers while also seeing NHL time with Carolina this year.
Bryan Rodney, who split the 2009-10 campaign between the AHL and NHL, currently places second among league defensemen with 17 points (4-13-17) in 24 games for Charlotte, including 11 points on the power play. Acquired in an offseason trade with the N.Y. Rangers, former first-round draft pick Bobby Sanguinetti got out to a slow start but has put up nine points (2-7-9) in 19 games thus far, and Brett Carson shows six assists in 14 games while also appearing in three NHL tilts for the Hurricanes. Casey Borer, in his first full season back after neck surgery, has chipped in five points (1-4-5) and leads all Checkers defensemen with a plus-5 rating.
Charlotte’s goaltending duties have been split evenly between 24-year-old Justin Pogge and 21-year-old rookie Mike Murphy, who have each appeared in 13 games this year. Pogge is 7-1-0 in his last eight decisions after dropping his first four starts of the season, while Murphy is 4-1-2 since the start of November.
The Checkers, whose 24 games played are tied for most in the AHL, are idle until hosting the Syracuse Crunch on Sunday afternoon (Dec. 5) and Monday evening (Dec. 6).
GOALS, GOALS, AND MORE GOALS … The Grand Rapids Griffins and Chicago Wolves combined for a massive display of offense on Saturday night at Allstate Arena, with the Griffins ultimately outlasting the Wolves for a 10-8 victory to snap a five-game winless skid (0-4-0-1).
Grand Rapids, which entered the night having totaled just seven goals in its previous eight games combined, scored twice in 62 seconds, twice more in 17 seconds and later twice again in 26 seconds during a seven-goal second period. The Griffins’ 10 goals tied a franchise record, and the 18 combined tallies marked the most in an AHL contest since the Baltimore Bandits defeated the Binghamton Rangers, 10-8, on Mar. 29, 1996.
Second-year forward Tomas Tatar, who celebrates his 20th birthday on Dec. 1, racked up two goals, five assists and a plus-7 rating, becoming the first AHL player to score seven points in a game since Chicago’s Jason Krog on Nov. 4, 2006, at Peoria.
WHALE OF A CROWD … The newly-named Connecticut Whale took the ice in Hartford for the first time on Saturday night and produced a thrilling 3-2 shootout win over arch-rival Bridgeport in front of an electric crowd of 13,089 fans at the XL Center. Chad Kolarik and Jeremy Williams netted shootout goals for the Whale after Bridgeport’s Anton Klementyev had tied the score with just over two minutes left in regulation.
Saturday marked the second-highest attendance in Hartford’s AHL history, topped only by a gathering of 14,115 fans for a Wolf Pack game vs. Springfield on Jan. 24, 1998, during the franchise’s inaugural season.
There were several strong crowds around the AHL last weekend. The largest turnout in the AHL this season – 14,873 fans – saw the Binghamton Senators take on the Hamilton Bulldogs at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa on Friday night. Lake Erie welcomed 10,608 fans to Quicken Loans Arena for its contest against Oklahoma City on Friday; Hershey packed 10,215 fans into Giant Center on Saturday; and Abbotsford drew nearly 13,000 people – including a capacity crowd of 7,046 – for its two-game weekend set with Manitoba.
HOME AT LAST … The Milwaukee Admirals completed a grueling 10-game, three-week road trip last weekend with wins at Texas and San Antonio sandwiched around a shootout loss in Houston. The Admirals finished a respectable 5-3-0-2 on the journey, which took them to Grand Rapids, Cleveland, San Antonio, Cedar Park, Oklahoma City, back to Cedar Park, to Houston, and back to San Antonio again.
Milwaukee has played 16 of its first 22 games overall on the road but has endured the stretch to rank fourth in the West Division at 11-6-1-4 (27 points). The Admirals will host Manitoba – and former head coach Claude Noel – on Wednesday night for their first tilt at the Bradley Center since a 4-1 win over Chicago on Nov. 7.
ETC. … Chicago was 5-for-7 on the power play and Darren Haydar paced the Wolves with two goals and two assists in Saturday’s 10-8 loss to Grand Rapids… In his second game of a conditioning stint after missing nearly 12 months due to injury, Joffrey Lupul scored the winning goal in Syracuse’s 3-2 victory over Hamilton on Sunday… Peoria rookie Jake Allen made 31 saves in a 5-0 win over Rockford on Saturday, his fourth shutout in eight appearances on the year… Lake Erie’s Ryan Stoa has netted six goals in his last six games after going his first 16 games of the season without scoring… Wilkes-Barre/Scranton leading scorer Dustin Jeffrey (9-15-24) has played 21 games this season and recorded multiple points in eight of them… Oklahoma City’s Colin McDonald is riding a four-game goal-scoring streak (5-0-5), and his 11 goals in 22 games this year (11-2-13) are just one shy of the 12 goals he scored in 76 games for Springfield in 2009-10… Manchester’s Andrei Loktionov had eight points (1-7-8) in four games last week – all victories – as the Monarchs improved to 8-1-0-0 in their last nine contests… Bobby Butler has recorded the game-winning goal in five of Binghamton’s last seven victories… Peoria is 14-0-0-0 when allowing two or fewer goals and 0-7-1-1 when allowing three scores or more… Toronto, which won just 11 road games all of last season (11-22-3-4), is already 8-2-0-3 away from Ricoh Coliseum in 2010-11… Norfolk has gone nine straight games without a power play goal (0-for-21) but has killed 13 straight opponent advantages over the last five games… Milwaukee is 7-1-0-0 against the North Division this season but just 4-5-1-4 against fellow West Division foes… With the AHL All-Star Game set for an East-West format this year, Western Conference clubs are 20-7-0-1 against the Eastern Conference to date.