As far as losses go, this one didn’t seem to carry the same level of regret that the Checkers have experienced earlier in the season.
Players and coaches seemed to agree that the team’s compete level, which has typically been the culprit in the team’s setbacks, was there during a 3-1 loss to the visiting Lake Erie Monsters at Time Warner Cable Arena on Monday. Charlotte led for most of the game on Jerome Samson’s first-period tally, but allowed three unanswered third-period goals, including a late empty-netter, as they concluded a stretch of playing on three consecutive nights.
“I thought we came out fine, even for the last game of a three-in-three,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels. “I think we battled hard.”
Even though the result wasn’t there as Charlotte fell to 9-3-1 at home this season, the feeling from the team’s locker room was that the team had put together two consecutive solid efforts on the heels of a Friday night loss to Texas that most regard as their poorest of the season.
“Tonight we played the same game we did last night and didn’t get the result we wanted from it,” said Zac Dalpe. "It’s a little frustrating, but there are a lot of positives we can pull from it.
“We had a little bit of a wake-up call two nights ago and everyone was going yesterday, and I kind of thought everyone was going today.”
The loss concludes the Checkers’ six-game home stand, during which they posted a record of 4-2-0. Despite the loss, they’ve still recorded a league-high 19 standings points this season, helping them to a five-point lead in the Midwest Division.
Samson opened the scoring on Monday, ending a personal five-game drought that matched his longest of the season. The play developed when Jon Matsumoto entered the zone and sent a drop pass to Chris Durno, who found Samson streaking down the right side with a perfect cross-ice pass. The goal, Samson's 10th of the season, tied him with Matsumoto for the team lead.
That tally, scored with just over four minutes left in the first period, would hold until the 2:17 mark of the third. That’s when Ryan Stoa got the visitors on the board by crashing the net on a three-on-two break, narrowly beating the Checkers’ Riley Nash, and redirecting a cross-crease pass from Ryan Malone past Charlotte’s Justin Peters.
The goal ended what appeared to be a legitimate shutout bid for Peters, the AHL’s Goaltender of the Month from November who finished the evening with 34 saves.
“We make a bad read in the neutral zone,” said Daniels.
The two sides would trade chances throughout the rest of the period, most notably on a clear breakaway attempt by Zach Boychuk that sailed just over Monsters’ goalie Trevor Cann, but the score remained deadlocked until Lake Erie went on its fourth power play of the evening when Charlotte’s Nicolas Blanchard was found guilty of tripping at center ice. It would take just 23 seconds for the Monsters to capitalize, with Greg Mauldin blasting a one-timer from the left circle that beat Peters to the blocker side with just 3:51 left in the third period.
Tyson Barrie, who set up Mauldin’s winner, added an empty-net tally with 33 seconds remaining to seal the Checkers’ second defeat in their last three games.
If fatigue was a factor for the Checkers, who were playing on their third consecutive night to the Monsters’ two, they weren’t admitting it after the game.
“I don’t think the guys were tired,” said rookie Justin Shugg, who was playing his second consecutive game after sitting the previous two as a healthy scratch. “Three-in-threes are tough, but you have to get through them.”
“I don’t think we can use that as an excuse,” said Dalpe. “They’re pretty common in this league, and most of the guys have experience.”
Though Samson’s tally was technically the first of the evening, it may not have been the first to find the back of the net. Lake Erie appeared to register the game’s first goal just 1:58 into the first period, causing a celebration and an apparent stoppage in play, even though the referee never blew his whistle or signaled goal. That set off intense protests by the visitors, with defenseman David Liffiton earning an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his troubles.
However, the Checkers could not capitalize on the resulting power play or any of their subsequent three man advantages.
Charlotte will now embark on a two-game road trip that will see it play Texas and San Antonio on Friday and Sunday, respectively. The team will then return home for a four-game home stand that will last right up until the 10-day holiday break.
NOTES: Matsumoto’s first-period assist gave him 14 on the season, one behind team leader Chris Terry. The Checkers’ overall point leader for most of the season, Matsumoto has nine points in his last seven games … Durno’s assist gave him his first point streak of the season, as he scored the winning goal on Sunday … The Checkers fell to 2-3-0 in the third game of three-in-three sets this season … Forwards Matt Pistilli and Jared Staal were healthy extras for Charlotte, while center Cedric McNicoll and defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti remained sidelined due to injury … Fans named Peters winner of the Roll up Your Sleeves Hardest Worker of the Game Award.