Having entered the post-holiday portion of their schedule with some positive momentum, the Checkers ended a busy weekend on a sour note in San Antonio.
Bobby Sanguinetti and Justin Shugg scored in a 5-2 defeat to the Rampage on Sunday, ensuring that Charlotte would finish a set of three games in three nights without a win for the first time in their three-year AHL history. Continuing a season of sharp ups and downs, the current three-game winless streak (0-2-1) began with an overtime loss in Houston on Friday that simultaneously tied the longest point streak in team history (5-0-2).
San Antonio goalie Jacob Markstrom finished the game with 49 saves, 24 of which came in a third period that saw the Checkers out-shoot San Antonio 26-9. At the other end, Justin Peters made 26 to suffer his first loss in four meetings with San Antonio. The eight-game season series continues in February with the first of four remaining games in Charlotte.
Adding some bad luck to their misfortune on the ice, the Checkers may have lost as many as three players to injury over the course of the weekend, with Nicolas Blanchard and Zach Boychuk making early exits on Sunday. Defenseman Rasmus Rissanen missed the weekend’s final two games after leaving Friday’s game in the first period.
The Checkers’ power play, which entered the game on a season-long 0-for-13 skid spanning the last four games, was an early culprit for the team’s struggles on Sunday. It went 1-for-7 on the game and allowed a backbreaking shorthanded goal to Quinton Howden that made the score 3-0 near the end of the second period.
Sanguinetti managed to break what had become an 0-for-18 power-play drought early in the third to make the score 3-1 just one second after a San Antonio penalty had expired to turn a Checkers five-on-three power play into a five-on-four. Corralling the puck on the point, Sanguinetti moved laterally to find a shooting lane before beating Markstrom through traffic.
That goal started a back-and-forth third period between the South Division rivals, with the Rampage’s John Lee scoring his first of the season on a slap shot from the right circle, part of a Gordie Howe Hat Trick for the defenseman, to restore his team’s three goal lead minutes later. Justin Shugg then scored with less than five minutes remaining on a wide-open rebound to make it 4-2 and set up a few minutes of wild end-to-end action as the Checkers made a desperate push for more goals.
A result of that desperation was a series of odd-man rushes, one of which was finished by San Antonio’s Drew Shore to seal the home team’s victory.
Markstrom, who made 42 saves in a shootout loss against Oklahoma City two days prior, did his part to put a dent in the Checkers’ numbers on the power play and even strength. Prior to Charlotte’s third-period onslaught, the Florida Panthers prospect had made several impressive saves, including what looked like a sure goal by Sanguinetti on a shorthanded two-on-one in the second period.
Charlotte’s 51 shots trailed their season high of 54 from the Dec. 20 game against Peoria, which was also a franchise record.
Prior to Howden’s shorthanded marker, the Rampage got two goals to start the game from Jared Gomes and Casey Wellman. Gomes scored on a two-on-one break in the first period, while Wellman finished a nice passing play just moments after a Charlotte power play had expired.
Sensing the need to change the game’s momentum following Gomes’ goal, Blanchard fought San Antonio’s Justin Vaive on the ensuing faceoff, suffering an injury as a result of a well-aimed Vaive punch that quickly ended the bout.
Prior to the Checkers’ successful five-on-three, they also killed one in the second period that prevented the game from getting out of reach. Moments after Markstrom robbed Sanguinetti on his shorthanded break, the Checkers defensemen took a tripping penalty that set up a 43-second, two-man advantage. Charlotte finished the night 4-for-4 on the penalty kill.
The Checkers conclude their five-game road swing with back-to-back games in Lake Erie starting Thursday. They then play a “home” game at Raleigh’s PNC Arena, home of the parent Carolina Hurricanes, on Sunday before playing their next three on the road.
NOTES: In addition to Rissanen, defensemen Marc-Andre Gragnani (injury) and Justin Faulk (precautionary) did not play. In their stead, rookie Tommi Kivisto played his third career AHL game and Bobby Raymond, signed to a professional contract from the ECHL’s Florida Everblades earlier in the day, made his Checkers debut … Howden’s goal was the third shorthanded tally the Checkers have allowed this season … San Antonio extended its point streak to four games (3-0-1) … Forwards Justin Soryal and Jared Staal were healthy scratches for Charlotte.