CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Though pleased with their effort for the full 60 minutes, it turned out that a hot start was all the Checkers would need.
Charlotte scored two goals in the games’ first four minutes and never looked back en route to a 5-1 home win over Milwaukee that extended its winning streak to four games. Matt Pistilli recorded a career-high three points for Charlotte, while Justin Peters made 28 saves in goal as the team swept its back-to-back weekend series with the Admirals by posting its largest margin of victory this season.
For coach Jeff Daniels, who was displeased with his team following its previous night’s win, there was no comparison to Sunday’s effort.
“Night and day,” he said. “Especially in the first period, we played with a passion and a purpose.
“I expect a lot out of them and hopefully they expect it of themselves. I set the bar pretty high, because I’ve seen how they can play and I hadn’t been seeing it in the last few weeks.”
Peters, who lost his bid to post the team’s first shutout of the season with just 55.7 seconds remaining in regulation, agreed that his team’s effort was much improved.
“I thought that was one of the best games we’ve played as a team,” said Peters. “I thought we deserved to win.”
Pistilli and rookie Justin Shugg got the ball rolling early, with Pistilli beating Milwaukee starter Atte Engren on a partial breakaway at the 2:07 mark before Shugg tallied his first career AHL goal just 1:16 later on a shot from the left faceoff circle. Those two shots were the only ones Engren would face all day, as he was promptly pulled from the game in favor of regular starter Jeremy Smith.
Pistilli would add a second goal midway through the opening period for his fifth goal of the season, four of which have come in his last six games. He would later add an assist on Drayson Bowman’s goal with five minutes remaining in regulation that made the score 5-0 for Charlotte.
“He played one of the best games I’ve seen him play in a long time,” said Daniels of Pistilli. “It’s funny how when you have something good happen early that you start feeling really good about yourself.”
“It was one of those games where it seems like things are going your way,” said Pistilli. “The puck was bouncing my way a lot tonight.”
Milwaukee, which had not suffered a regulation loss on the road in nearly a year until dropping two straight to the Checkers this weekend, came out much stronger in the second period, peppering Peters with scoring chances. However, the goaltender was able to weather the storm, keeping the visitors off the score sheet until Chris Terry scored his second goal in as many nights to make it 4-0 and extend his point streak to seven games.
“We came out in the second a little more relaxed than we needed to be and survived some early shifts until we got our legs going,” said Daniels. “I thought Petey was a big factor in our win tonight.”
The only blemish for Peters, who improved his November record to 5-1-1 with a 1.63 goals-against average and .949 save percentage, was when Milwaukee’s Gabriel Bourque finished a cross-crease pass from Ryan Thang to spoil his bid for the shutout.
“I’d be lying if I said that (it wasn’t disappointing), but it doesn’t bother me too much because it was our most complete game of the season,” said Peters.
The Checkers’ current winning streak matches their longest of the season which was set almost exactly one month ago in late October. Depending on Sunday’s late results, the Checkers could finish the day with as much as a seven-point lead in the Midwest Division as they continue their six-game home stand against Texas on Wednesday.
“If we have all 20 guys rolling the way we have, we’re going to have a hell of a team in this league,” said Pistilli.