Just when it seemed as though the Checkers had their confidence back, it disappeared just as quickly.
After rallying back from an early goal, the kind that had sent them into noticeable funks during recent games, the Checkers surrendered three unanswered goals in a 5-2 loss to Peoria on Tuesday that marked their third straight loss, all of which have come at home. In the process, the Checkers fell to 2-5-4 in their last 11 games and missed a chance to leapfrog Peoria in the Western Conference standings.
The loss comes despite the fact that the Checkers out-shot Peoria 44-24 – a fact that wasn’t lost on coach Jeff Daniels after the game.
“It’s pretty obvious,” he said. “You get 40 shots, two goals, and you lose the game.”
Both of those goals came in a first period that saw the Checkers, who had previously been displeased with the way they reacted to in-game adversity during a forgettable month of March, dominate after allowing a goal by Anthony Peluso just 2:32 into the game. Rather than withdraw, Charlotte would finish the frame with 21 shots, tying the most it’s taken in a single period all season, and a 2-1 lead thanks to a short-side finish by Zac Dalpe and a power-play redirect by Zach Boychuk.
However, it took just 50 seconds for Peoria to tie the game in the second period courtesy of former Carolina Hurricane Patrick O’Sullivan, with the Checkers unable to provide a response.
“We came out pretty hard and were getting lots of shots early and were getting results, and then in the second period we kind of came off the gas pedal a little bit, got a bad bounce and they put it in the back of our net,” said Boychuk. “For some reason with our confidence right now it deflated us, and we can’t be having that at this time of year. “
That deflation may not have been noticeable in the effort level – few could find fault with that after the game – but it did become evident in the amount of missed chances. After the Rivermen took a 3-2 lead on Peluso’s second of the game at the game’s midway point, Charlotte got just under five minutes of consecutive power-play time without producing the expected amount of quality chances.
When the Checkers did get great looks as they did at the start of the third period, goalie Jake Allen had all the answers during his 42-save performance, setting the stage for his team to keep adding to its lead at the other end.
We’re making mistakes and they’re scoring, and they’re making mistakes and we’re not capitalizing,” said Daniels. “That’s the difference between us winning and losing right now.”
The lack of finishing touch has been an issue for much of the season, with the team entering the night ranked 8th in the AHL in shots per game (31.8) but 19th in terms of goals per game (2.74). Those numbers will now be skewed even further.
“We need that extra drive,” said Boychuk.
Looking for answers as their most unsuccessful stretch of the season has put them in the thick of the playoff race with just 13 games left to play, the Checkers, according to Boychuk, held a closed-door meeting after the game in which the team’s leaders voiced their opinions.
Goalie Justin Peters, who made 19 saves on 23 shots against the Rivermen, said the message was simple.
"It's not rocket science,” he said. “We need to do a better job as individuals of preparing ourselves"
“We know what we have to do,” said Boychuk. “It’s not the coaches or the game plan. It’s us in the room.”
They’ll get an immediate chance to start righting the ship, as they host a rematch Wednesday. Though they can no longer pass Peoria in the standings as the Rivermen increased their lead to three points with Tuesday’s win, they can at least stay afloat and begin to make a run toward keeping their spot in the postseason.
“We want to be a playoff team and these divisional games are huge,” said Boychuk. “We’ve got to find a way to step up.”
NOTES: Along with his two-goal performance against Norfolk on Friday, Boychuk has three of the Checkers’ last four goals … Checkers defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti had an assist to extend his point streak to three games (1g, 5a) … Prior to Tuesday, Peluso had two goals in 52 games this season … Peoria captain Adam Cracknell, who assisted on O’Sullivan’s goal, picked up a five-minute major and a game misconduct for elbowing Sean Dolan in the second period … The Rivermen have now won five games in a row … Charlotte leads the season series 3-2-0 with three games remaining … Forward Justin Shugg and defensemen Ryan Donald and Joe Sova were healthy scratches … Fans named Dalpe the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game.