The Charlotte Checkers went into the holiday break on a sour note losing to the Cleveland Monsters 3-1 on Thursday (Dec. 22). After the holidays the Checkers would come back and split games the Manitoba Moose, winning 3-2 Friday (Dec. 30) and losing 4-1 Sunday (Jan. 1). They would drop their next game to the Chicago Wolves 4-2 on Tuesday (Jan. 3) but would rebound against the Grand Rapids Griffins on Friday (Jan. 6) winning 2-1. The very next day, Saturday (Jan. 7), the Checkers were back in Chicago where they lost 5-2, but they rebounded again on Tuesday (Jan. 10) against the the Milwaukee Admirals winning in dominant fashion 5-1.
Three stars of the week
Andrew Poturalski remained one of the Checkers’ most consistent offensive forces during the team’s past few weeks of play. He tallied three assists in Friday’s win and added a goal during the team’s 4-1 loss to Manitoba. Although he has been one of the Checkers’ most consistent players, Poturalski has fallen considerably off the pace with which he started the season. However, this is not a worrisome development as rookies are commonly known for their streaky play as they adjust to the different style of play and the level of talent in either the AHL or NHL. Look for Poturalski to have one more big hot streak before the season ends. Next, Phil Di Giuseppe sets himself apart from the rest of the Checkers every night he steps on the ice. He looks to be on a whole different skill level compared to his teammates. Di Giuseppe is the only player who can consistently create offense for himself and his teammates by using his speed and his strength to power through the opposing defense. He contributed three goals and added an assist in the seven games the team played. Di Giuseppe is the obvious choice for the next call-up if anyone is injured on offense for the Canes. Finally, no one had a more productive week than Lucas Wallmark. He tallied three goals and three assists playing in between the first and the second lines. At first glance he does not appear to be the most skilled player on the rink, but Wallmark is the Checkers’ best playmaker. He consistently finds his teammates around the net for high quality scoring chances and he does not force passes that aren’t there, which could lead to turnovers heading back into the team’s defensive zone. If Wallmark is able to improve his goal scoring ability and speed, then he could find a spot for himself on the Hurricanes one day.
Patrick Dwyer is beginning to contribute more on offense as the season continues. He put up two goals and two assists in the Checkers’ past few weeks of play. Before this seven game stretch, Dwyer had only garnered three points in 22 games and he was mostly just used as an asset on the penalty kill. He did a solid job of positioning himself near the net when his line had the puck on offense, and it lead to him having multiple high quality scoring chances. While he should not be relied on as a heavy offensive contributor, if Dwyer can chip in on offensive like he did the past seven games, then it would go a long way to help improving the team’s record. While he did not have his best week, Valentin Zykov still was one of the main contributors on offense for the Checkers. The big man was able to tally one goal and add two assists to make him tied for third on the team in points. Zykov has not been the same player since he lost his former linemates, Derek Ryan and Brock McGinn, to NHL call-up. It will be interesting to see in the second half of the season if he can get back to where he was at the beginning of the year playing with Ryan and McGinn, or if he will continue to struggle in finding consistent chemistry with the players currently on the Checkers.
The Checkers’ special teams is having a rough season up to this point. The team’s power play is currently ranked dead last in percentage at 11.5%. The penalty kill is not much better as they are the 23rd ranked team in the AHL, killing 78.5% of its penalties. The power play units are having trouble bringing the puck into the offensive zone and setting up the power play itself when it is cleared down the ice. When they do eventually set up the power play in the offensive zone, they are able to get quality scoring opportunities. In the Checkers’ last game against the Admirals, they scored on two of the five attempts they with the man up and they ended up winning 5-1. If this team can improve on its special teams, it will at the least not finish in bottom five of the AHL where they stand currently.
Injuries and roster notes
Trevor Carrick, Andrew Miller, Brendan Woods, and Kris Newbury all missed games due to injury. Mitchell Heard, Kevin Raine, Josh Wesley, Erik Karlsson, Clark Bishop, and Kyle Hagel were all scratched at least on game. The Carolina Hurricanes assigned Andrej Nestrasil to Charlotte on Tuesday (Jan. 10).
Forward lines as of now
- First line: Sergey Tolchinsky-Andrew Poturalski-Patrick Dwyer
- Second line: Phil Di Giuseppe-Lucas Wallmark-Valentin Zykov
- Third line: Connor Brickley-Patrick Brown-Levko Koper
- Fourth line: Kris Newbury-Mitchell Heard, Kyle Hagel
Defensive pairings as of now
- First pairing: Haydn Fleury-Roland McKeown
- Second pairing: Dennis Robertson-Jake Chelios
Third pairing: Kevin Lowe-Kevin Raine