CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- They might be missing players, but they’re still getting results.
Justin Peters earned his third shutout in four starts and Luke Pither scored in his Checkers debut as the team defeated Grand Rapids by a 1-0 score on Wednesday. The win was the team’s sixth in a row, setting a new franchise record.
Three of those wins came after the end of the NHL lockout resulted in a handful of Charlotte’s top players making their way to Raleigh for training camp with the Carolina Hurricanes. Their results since then – three one-goal victories – have lacked the fluency they’re accustomed to, but they’ve managed to get by.
“We have to work with what we have,” said coach Jeff Daniels, whose team has yet to suffer a regulation loss in 2013. “It’s a credit to the guys who are working hard. We’re not generating a lot of offense right now, but we’re being smart with the puck.”
To Daniels’ point, the Checkers’ 17 shots on goal were a new franchise record for fewest in a single game. It also marked the second time they’ve registered less than 20 since losing the likes of Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk, Zac Dalpe and five others to Carolina on Saturday.
With Peters again perfect in goal, they only needed one of those to count. It came off the stick of Pither, a 23-year-old center who the Hurricanes acquired in a trade that sent Brian Boucher to Philadelphia on Sunday.
Playing his first AHL game since March, Pither received the puck on a turnover in the neutral zone, raced up the left wing and fired a well-placed shot just inside the far post to the left of Griffins goalie Petr Mrazek 10 minutes into the first period. It was the first AHL goal since Jan. 6 of last year for Pither, who had spent the early part of this season in the ECHL with the Wheeling Nailers.
“I felt good,” said Pither, who scored on his first shot of the game. “I was getting a lot of ice time in Wheeling so my conditioning is good. I feel like I’ve got my speed back and I’m confident with the puck.”
“He had a good shot and showed some speed,” said Daniels of his newest player, who arrived in Charlotte late Monday night. “It’s a new team, new building and new systems, so for the most part we just wanted him to go out and play.”
With so many players remaining in Carolina even after the Hurricanes reassigned centers Riley Nash and Jeremy Welsh in time for Wednesday’s game, Pither was still one of eight players in the Checkers’ lineup who started the season in the ECHL.
Those players did a good job of limiting clear-cut chances for the Griffins, who, by comparison, emerged relatively unscathed despite the start of training camp with their parent club in Detroit. When needed, Peters, who made 27 saves to record his fifth shutout of the season and fourth since Dec. 11, was there to clean up.
“He’s a competitor and he wants to win so badly,” said Daniels. “He’s one of the most exited guys in the locker room after these games, and guys don’t want to let him down.”
Following the game, Peters deferred credit to players in front of him, including those who have been with the team all season but have now taken on more of a role due to the team’s depleted lineup.
“It was an unbelievable effort and guys stepped up,” he said. “Seeing guys like (Jared) Staal and (Sean) Dolan killing penalties near the end of the game (a Checkers penalty for too many men on the ice with 1:24 remaining in regulation), they didn’t even give them a sniff.”
With the win, the Checkers remained perfect in six all-time meetings with Grand Rapids over the course of the last two seasons. They’ll get a chance to build on that in Thursday’s rematch at Time Warner Cable Arena, not that the seemed particularly focused on their record winning streak with everything else that’s gone on around them.
“Right now we’re just looking at the next game,” said Daniels. “I don’t think it’s even been discussed in the locker room.”
NOTES: Peters now has sole possession of second place in AHL shutouts. He also extended his own team record for shutouts in a single season and set a new personal record for most shutouts in a single season … The Checkers have seven shutouts as a team, including two by Dan Ellis … The Checkers’ longest previous winning streak was five games, set in November of last season … Charlotte, which lost in overtime prior to its win streak, has points in seven consecutive games, tying a franchise record set on two previous occasions … Justin Shugg assisted on Pither’s goal, giving him assists and points in each of his last three games …. Pither also took a game high four-penalty minutes as a result of two minor penalties … Defenseman Tommi Kivisto was a healthy scratch, while forwards Nicolas Blanchard and Jerome Samson and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani missed the game due to injury.