After getting solid contributions from new players in a hard-working win over Oklahoma City one night earlier, the Checkers were less than enthused with Monday’s rematch.
Outside of two quick goals by defensemen Marc-Andre Gragnani and Bobby Raymond in the first period, the Checkers again had trouble generating offense in a 4-2 loss to the Barons. John Muse, getting the start in goal with Justin Peters recalled to Carolina, settled down after allowing three goals on five shots in the first period en route to a 21-save outing.
The Checkers mustered just 18 shots in the loss, narrowly eclipsing the franchise low of 17 set on two previous occasions this season. Their single shot in a middle frame that saw them out-shot 12-1 also marked their lowest single-period total of the campaign.
The overall showing was enough for Daniels to provide a quick and short answer when asked if he could find positives from the game.
“Nope,” he said.
“They were the better team, and it showed out there.”
The game took on a different tone from start to finish, with the teams combining for five goals in a first period that saw the Barons lead 3-2 at the intermission. Muse, in his first game as the team’s de facto starter following the promotion of All-Star partner Justin Peters to Carolina, was not as his best, allowing the Barons to score in both the first and last minutes of the period.
While that may have contributed to the Checkers’ fortunes early on, it was the rest of their game that let them down in the end, as they took a combined eight shots in the second and third periods.
“The team lost tonight,” said Daniels.
“We’ve got to create our own energy, and we didn’t do that,” said center Sean Dolan.
The Checkers’ previous games that produced similarly low shot totals came under similar circumstances, as the team was seriously shorthanded in mid-January following the promotion of several players to Carolina Hurricanes training camp at the end of the NHL’s lockout. This time, the team was without four forwards due to injury – Zac Dalpe, A. J. Jenks, Andreas Nodl and Jerome Samson – and a few others to NHL recall, including Riley Nash and Brett Sutter.
In total, nine of the 20 players in the Checkers’ lineup started the season in the ECHL.
“This isn’t our first time doing it,” said scoring leader Chris Terry, who has been with the Checkers all season, of navigating through the high roster turnover. “We’ve had guys in and out of our lineup, and I don’t think we can put it on that.”
In addition to that group of missing players, forward Justin Shugg, one of the few remaining players who has proven he can be offensively productive at the AHL level, suffered an apparent lower-body injury and did not finish the game. Daniels had no immediate update on his condition.
The Checkers’ only breakthroughs came midway through the first period, when Gragnani and Raymond scored 1:31 apart. First, Gragnani scored his second goal of the season on a power-play as Matt Marquardt found him sneaking in from the left point on a cross-crease pass in front of 6-foot-7 Barons netminder Niko Hovinen. Then, Raymond finished a David Rutherford pass from behind the net for his third of the campaign.
Five of the six players who recorded points on the goals were ECHL recalls, with Marquardt and Brody Sutter each recording their first AHL points of the season.
That sequence, which canceled out Josh Green’s goal at the 52-second mark, put the Checkers ahead 2-1. However, goals by C. J. Stretch, who sent a low shot between Muse’s legs as the puck carrier on a two-on-one break, and Mark Arcobello, who finished his own rebound from a sharp angle with 35 seconds remaining, erased it in relatively short order.
The Barons’ fourth goal in the second period proved to be more than enough insurance. Philippe Cornet scored it on a deflection of a point shot by Brett Clark, neither of whom had a Checkers defender in the immediate vicinity.
“We needed to be sharper in all areas of the ice,” said Terry.
Before beginning a five-game home stand against the Houston Aeros on Saturday, the Checkers now get set to return to Norfolk – the site of two disappointing losses over the last two months – to try and reverse their fortunes. The message after the game was about looking within their current roster rather than outside of it for answers.
“There are no reinforcements coming in the near future,” said Terry. “We’ve all got to play as a team and learn our roles.”
NOTES: Checkers goalie Rob Madore, recalled from ECHL Florida earlier in the day, dressed for the first time at the AHL level but did not play … The Checkers killed all four Oklahoma City power plays, extending their perfect penalty killing streak to 26 kills over their last seven games … Nineteen of Gragnani’s 24 points this season have come on the power play … Rutherford has points in each of his last two games (1g, 1a) … Terry had a team-high four shots on goal … The Checkers and Barons split their eight-game series with four wins apiece, though the Barons finished with a higher point total via one overtime loss.