In need of a response following a disappointing loss, the Checkers got it in their rematch with San Antonio.
Michal Jordan and Zac Dalpe scored 66 seconds apart near the end of the second period and Justin Peters made 28 saves as the Checkers pulled out a 2-1 win over the Rampage at Time Warner Cable Arena on Sunday. The win snapped a two-game losing streak, both overall and in their season series with San Antonio, and made up for a 3-2 loss on Saturday.
Though his team was lacking in execution at times until Jordan found the back of the net with four minutes to go in the second, coach Jeff Daniels praised his team’s ability to stick to its game plan.
“I thought we were playing the right way, and the message was to stay patient,” he said.
That patience was never more evident than on Jordan’s career-high sixth goal of the season. The Czech defenseman, coming off his first career All-Star appearance, made a full circle around the offensive zone on his play, holding the puck long enough to beat defenders, find teammates and give-and-go attempts and finally create a shooting lane for himself to beat goalie Dov Grumet-Morris between the legs.
“He’s been doing that all year,” said Daniels of Jordan. “He’s got such patience with the puck and there’s no panic to his game.”
“He showed such poise on that goal,” said Dalpe. “Nothing against him, but I haven’t seen that kind of poise from many players. There was no looking back after that.”
To that point, Dalpe struck just over a minute later after receiving a drop pass from Brett Sutter on a two-on-one break, firing a wrist shot into the top corner over Grumet-Morris’ glove. The goal extended Dalpe’s point streak to a career-high seven games, tying him with Jordan Eberle, now in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers, for the longest active streak in the league.
“You ask any hockey player – if you have confidence, you tend to make more plays and see more openings,” said Dalpe, who has seven goals and four assists during his streak. “I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.”
Both before and after the Checkers’ goals, Peters, starting for the second time in less than 24 hours, made a handful of key saves. First, he kept his team in the game as San Antonio came out with momentum to start the second period, finally allowing a goal to Scott Timmins on a centering feed from behind the net after earlier stopping a handful of good chances against.
Once his team built the lead, he was also an integral part of maintaining it, most notably when NHL veteran Mike Santorelli snuck in behind the defense for a one-on-one chance in the third.
“He was a big reason we got the two points,” said Daniels, who has started Peters in nine of the last 10 games. “He’s one of the best-conditioned athletes on the team, he wants the net and he’s our No. 1 guy.”
“I’m still hoping to make the NHL, but to do that I’ve got to be a dominant goalie here and give us a chance to win every night,” said Peters.
After falling victim to some rough play from the Rampage on Saturday, the Checkers also left Sunday’s game encouraged with their ability to fight back. Defenseman Rasmus Rissanen received the bulk of that praise, as he engaged with San Antonio forward Andre Deveaux, a hulking forward who was active between plays all weekend, following a slash on Peters.
Rissanen ended up leaving the game midway through the third period after taking a punch to the head from that altercation. He could be seen bleeding as he left the ice and appeared to have stitches on the side of his head after the game, but seemed otherwise OK.
“That was good to see,” said Jordan. “It’s nice to see that everyone is going to stand up for everyone, even though he gave up 20 pounds.”
“He’s a big, strong guy,” said Daniels of the 6-foot-4, 232-pound Deveaux, who had to be separated from Justin Soryal as the players left the ice following the game. “It looked like he might have got an extra shot in on Rissanen, but this is our team and our building.”
Coincidentally, the game was the last the Checkers will see of their own building in February, as the team closes a light month with five road games. They return to Charlotte on March 3 to begin a stretch of playing 14 of their next 17 games at home, taking them right up to the last week of the regular season in mid-April.
Those games could be crucial to an ever-tightening playoff race, though the Checkers did themselves a favor with Sunday’s win – one that had the potential to tie them for the highest point total in the AHL depending on other scores around the league.
Given how disappointed they were one night earlier, that’s not a bad neighborhood to be in.
“The good part about hockey is that you get the opportunity to get right back in the saddle,” said Peters.
NOTES: Peters has played in all six of the Checkers’ games against San Antonio … In addition to his point streak, Dalpe also has a three-game goal streak … The Checkers finished the weekend series 0-for-8 on the power play and 6-for-6 on the penalty kill … Chris Terry (five games), Luke Pither (two games) and Justin Krueger (two games) all saw their point streaks come to an end … Riley Nash saw his five-game home assist streak come to an end … Forwards A.J. Jenks, David Rutherford and Jerome Samson missed the game with upper-body injuries.