The Checkers finally returned to action after a long break, and they were not pleased with the results.
The visiting San Antonio Rampage broke open a tie game with two goals midway through the third period and never looked back in a 3-2 win at the Checkers’ annual Pink in the Rink night on Saturday. Jared Staal and Zac Dalpe scored for Charlotte, who suffered their second straight loss, this one in front of a season-high 13,000 fans at Time Warner Cable Arena.
With his team having played just twice in the last 13 days due the AHL All-Star Break and another coincidentally large hiatus in their schedule, coach Jeff Daniels expressed concern about his team’s readiness heading into the contest.
Though he didn’t cite that as a reason, the concern may have been warranted.
“No excuses,” he said during a particularly curt press conference following the game. “We’ve got to be desperate like we want to get into the playoffs, and we weren’t tonight.
“We got outworked.”
With the score close for much of the game, any lapses in effort were more noticeable along the boards and after the whistles, with Rampage forward Andre Deveaux, a 6-foot-4, 232-pound forward, making life difficult for a handful of Checkers in extracurricular scrums. That most notably occurred when Deveaux, who scored the go-ahead goal on a rebound of a Brendon Nash point shot, tussled with Michal Jordan and Chris Terry during stoppages in play without any repercussions.
Asked if such physical play could carry over to tomorrow afternoon’s rematch, Checkers captain Brett Sutter answered quickly.
“Absolutely,” he said. “They have a lot of big guys who work hard every night, and that’s something I think we have to do more of as a team.”
After winning their first three meetings with the Rampage in San Antonio this season, the Checkers have now lost two consecutive games to their Soutbh Division rivals and fell to 2-4-0 in their last six games.
After Deveaux and Garrett Wilson had scored to make it 3-1 with 10 minutes to play, Dalpe, who had excellent chances to score on a two-on-one with Chris Terry and a shorthanded breakaway in the second, roofed a loose puck past goalie Jacob Markstrom to claw one back for the home team with seven and a half minutes to spare.
That set up an exciting finish to the game, with the Checkers nearly completing the comeback on a series of near-misses with goalie Justin Peters pulled for the extra attacker.
After Staal, who picked a corner on a wrist shot over Markstrom’s glove for his third of the season, and Greg Rallo traded goals in the first period, the Checkers came up empty on an earlier man-advantage sequence. With San Antonio taking three penalties just over a minute apart in the second period, the Checkers had over four minutes of power-play time, including around a minute and a half of a five-on-three, but were unable to convert.
The Checkers finished the night 0-for-5 on the power play, in addition to giving up a relatively easy shorthanded goal to Rallo to end the first.
“We were a minus on the power play tonight,” said Sutter.
Despite the loss, a trio of Checkers continued hot scoring stretches, with Dalpe extending his point streak to six games (6g, 4a) and Chis Terry extending his point streak to five games (3g, 6a) with an assist on Staal’s goal. Luke Pither also assisted on Staal’s tally, giving him 12 points in nine games as a Checker.
Riley Nash had the primary assist on Dalpe’s goal, allowing him to match brother Brendon, who he was facing head-to-head for the first time ever in any competition, point-for-point.
Another positive from the game is that the Checkers get a chance to quickly atone for a disappointing effort when they face the Rampage again tomorrow, even though they hoped for better in front of a large crowd on Saturday.
“That was good to see,” said Sutter. “They were loud and had our back out there, and it’s just a shame we couldn’t get them a win.”
NOTES: The postgame auction of the Checkers’ specialty pink jerseys raised $16,175 for charity … Staal’s goal allowed him to match his single-season career high, set last season … The shorthanded goal was the fourth the Checkers have allowed this season … The Rampage entered the game with the AHL’s No. 4 penalty kill (85.4 percent) … Dalpe had a game-high seven shots on goal, with Jordan not far behind with six … Justin Krueger had an assist and was plus-1, improving his season total to plus-13 … Forwards A.J. Jenks, David Rutherford and Jerome Samson missed the game with upper-body injuries.