Coming off a much-needed win that snapped their losing streak, the Checkers took a step back on Sunday.
Michal Jordan and Brett Sutter scored goals for Charlotte as the team fell 5-2 to the Milwaukee Admirals, dropping it to 1-6-0 on its team-record, 10-game home stand. Dan Ellis took the loss in goal for the Checkers, who fell to 1-2-0 against Milwaukee this season and will host a rematch at Time Warner Cable Arena on Tuesday.
The result put the Checkers back in the loss column one game after their 5-1 win over Lake Erie on Friday that ended their team-record, five-game losing streak. Given the gusto with which the team ended that slide, Sunday’s result was all the more disappointing.
“Very,” said coach Jeff Daniels. “Right from the get-go they came at us hard, and we spent the first 13 minutes in our own end. Everybody’s got to be better, and I’ve got to be better.”
“We’re saying all the right things, but at the end of the day, talk is cheap,” said Sutter, the team’s captain. “It’s a matter of doing, and we’ve got to work a lot harder than we are right now”
To Daniels’ point, Milwaukee took control of the game early in the first period, with Patrick Cehlin collecting his own rebound on a blocked shot and firing the puck over Ellis’ left shoulder just after a penalty to Justin Krueger had expired. Then, Gabriel Bourque took a nice feed from Michal Latta, who had three assists on the day, beating Ellis from the top of the crease.
The goals came just under two minutes apart, putting the Checkers down 2-0 after six minutes and 22 seconds of game action. Even Ellis, who made 36 saves on Friday to earn another start against Milwaukee, marking just the second time a Checkers goalie started consecutive games this season, couldn’t stop the bleeding.
“Over the last two weeks we haven’t been good as a team, and we wanted to switch things up to get some momentum going,” said Daniels of his decision to turn to Ellis instead of Justin Peters, who skipped his expected turn in the rotation. “It wasn’t meant to be.”
Ellis, who entered the game ranked in the AHL’s top six in terms of goals-against average and save percentage, stopped 26 of 31 shots in the losing effort.
The Checkers got what could have been a momentum-swinging goal with just under five minutes remaining the first period, when Jordan intercepted a blind Milwaukee clearing attempt at the blue line, walked in and beat Milwaukee backup Magnus Hellberg. The goal was Jordan’s first since Feb. 17 of last season, ending a drought of 46 games.
As it turned out, any boost to the Checkers’ morale would be short-lived, with Mark Van Guilder scoring on a rebound of a Ryan Ellis shot just 1:29 into the second period. Rookie Austin Watson, Nashville’s first-round draft pick in 2010, made it 4-1 by finishing a spinning backhand pass from Cam Reid in the dying minutes of the period.
“You end the first period up 2-1 and we had a good shift to start the second, but then the first chance goes the other way and it’s in the net,” said Daniels. “You can see from the way we react to goals that we’re a fragile team right now, and we’ve got to get that confidence back.”
Milwaukee compounded the misery midway through the third period when Latta made a good move around a defender to get a shot on Ellis, with the rebound shooting out to Bourque for the veteran’s second goal of the game.
Sutter then grabbed his third goal in four games to make it 5-2 on a misplay by Hellberg, intercepting his attempt to play the puck and shooting it into the empty net. That goal proved to be little more than a slight consolation as the team fell to 4-11-0 in its last 15 home games dating back to last season.
“They came in and played a good, solid road game like they always do in Milwaukee,” said Sutter. “We couldn’t match their level.”
The Checkers have one day off to regroup before they host a rematch with the Admirals on Tuesday, setting up the final week of what has been a disappointing home stretch for a team that got off to a 9-2-2 start on the road.
“It’s my responsibility to figure out what’s going on right now,” said Daniels.
“We saw what we did on Friday,” said Sutter, who shook off the notion that his team was back to square one. “When we play with speed, courage and intensity, we’re a tough team to beat.”
NOTES: With 53 games to go, Sutter is only four goals away from tying his career high of 13 set last season … The last time a Checkers goalie started two games in a row was when Peters played on Oct. 21 and 26 … The Checkers’ Nicolas Blanchard fought for the second consecutive game and is on pace to set a new career high with 186 penalty minutes. He is already the Checkers’ all-time leader in the category … Charlotte defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani posted a team-low, minus-four rating … Forwards A.J. Jenks and Justin Soryal were healthy scratches for Charlotte, while defenseman Rasmus Rissanen was away from the team for personal reasons … Fans voted Blanchard as the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game.