Welcome back, fellow Caniacs! Hope everyone had a fantastic holiday and is entering 2019 with much joy.
Apologies for the prolonged absence of this series, but between moving, visiting family, and everything else which comes with the season, the past couple of weeks have been extremely busy for me. So, to make up for the last couple of weeks, I will be doing a short recap of the two weeks I missed, then will put out a regular recap for the three games of the first week of 2019. Let’s get right to it.
Charlotte Checkers week of 12/17-12/23
The Checkers played in three games the week leading up to the Christmas break, going 1-1-1. The first game against Utica was an entertaining, back and forth affair. After spotting the Comets a 2-0 lead early in the second, Jake Bean and Morgan Geekie scored twice in the same period to tie it up. Aleksi Saarela put the home team up 3-2 midway through the third, but the Checkers lost the lead with less than a minute remaining in regulation. Saarela would nearly score an overtime winner for the second consecutive game, but the shot rang off the post. Shortly after, Nedeljkovic badly misplayed the puck and it ended up behind him for the overtime winner. This is one area the young goalie needs to improve upon. He plays the puck very well, but as with many aspects of his game, he can be erratic and overzealous at times which leads to costly mistakes. Still, the Checkers at least got a point out of it. Bean had two assists to go along with his goal, and Necas, Poturalski, and Roy all added helpers in the contest as well. Ned stopped 27 of 31.
The next game was probably one of the Checkers’ worst of the year, a 6-1 beat down at the hands of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Former first round pick and veteran of 637 NHL games Steve Bernier would score twice in the initial frame, and the Checkers never recovered. The Checkers took some costly penalties and allowed Bridgeport to go 3 for 4 on the man advantage, including a 5-on-3 goal. Poturalski would score the only Charlotte goal with Saarela getting the lone assist. Scott Darling had a rough night, allowing six goals on 28 shots, but he had very little help in front of him. Just a poor effort all the way around. Of note, the “other” Sebastian Aho had three assists for Bridgeport. The diminutive offensive defenseman is having a fine season in the AHL, with 3 goals and 21 assists in 34 games. He has an impressive 53 points (12 goals, 41 assists) in 74 career games.
The Checkers would have a chance to make up for the previous night’s struggles with a quick turnaround the following evening against Bridgeport again. After two close-checking periods filled with great goalie play on both sides, the third period began in a scoreless tie. The Checkers powerplay would finally dent the scoreboard, with Nicolas Roy and Morgan Geekie both scoring powerplay markers to give the Checkers a two-goal cushion halfway through the third. The Sound Tigers would get one back with just under 7 to go, but the Checkers and Nedeljkovic locked it down the rest of the way before Poturalski added an empty net goal to seal it. Poturalski had the primary assist on the first goal as well, Bean and Carrick had PP assists of their own, and the red hot Aleksi Saarela (8-game point streak extended in this game, and 11 points in the last 12 games as of this writing) had two assists. Nedeljkovic was a rock all night long, stopping 27 of 28 to earn the win heading into the Christmas break.
Charlotte Checkers week of 12/24-12/31
Even though the preceding week was a bit rough, the six-game home stand was still a success. The Checkers earned a 4-1-1 mark leading into hitting the road for three games in four nights. They headed to Laval the first two nights for a back-to-back before heading to Toronto on Monday afternoon. The first game got off to a rough start, with the Rocket jumping out to a 3-0 lead before the Checkers even settled into the game. They would fight back in the second with Greg McKegg and Dennis Robertson markers, but could not complete the comeback. Laval scored with just under 3 minutes to go in regulation to ice the game. Morgan Geekie registered his fourth point in five games with an assist, as he continues to get back to the good brand of hockey we saw from him early in the year. Nedeljkovic made 16 saves on the minute total of 20 shots he faced in the game.
The next afternoon saw Charlotte get off to a slow start yet again, but this time the comeback would bear fruit. Scott Darling gave up two first period goals to send the Checkers to the locker room facing another multi-goal deficit. Early in the second, though, Saku Maenalanen would score a powerplay marker (notable because I am not sure he gets PP time with Necas and others in the lineup) and then captain Patrick Brown would knot the score at two with 13:02 to go in the second. The two teams would trade goals again before the end of the period, with Morgan Geekie tying it at 3 after Jake Evans had put Laval back in front. Dennis Robertson would score his fifth of the year early in the third, but they could not hold the lead and allowed the tying goal with about three minutes left in regulation. In overtime, Poturalski would come through, scoring his 13th of the season. The Checkers got revenge after the tough game the previous night once again. Geekie stayed hot with a three-point night, helping out with two assists along with his goal. Nick Schilkey had three assists, McKeown had two, and Bean had one of his own. Darling was solid, making 33 saves while facing a high-volume of 37 shots.
On New Year’s Day, the Checkers played an afternoon game and – you guessed it – got off to a pretty horrendous start. Nedeljkovic gave up three goals in the first 14:04 (not all his fault as he faced a whopping 13 shots in that time) before being pulled for Scott Darling. The swap seemed to give the Checkers a brief spark, as Saku Maenalanen (off topic, but boy I hope he stays in Carolina for a while as the fourth line has been exponentially better lately) scored his third shorthanded marker, tied for most in the AHL. Unfortunately, less than a minute after that Toronto scored again, and the Checkers were down 4-1 after just one period. As they always seem to, though, the Checkers fought back hard. McKegg scored midway through the second to get them within striking distance. Then, recent ECHL callup Zach Nastasiuk would score his first goal with Charlotte midway through the third. Greg McKegg would score his second of the game (he’s pretty hot lately, isn’t he?) to tie it with about 6 minutes to play. Darling, who had a strong game of relief stopping 21 of 23 shots to give the Checkers a chance, and Toronto’s Michael Hutchinson locked it down for the remainder of regulation. The Checkers had fought back to get a point, but Toronto’s Chris Mueller scored two minutes in to overtime to give the Marlies the winner’s point. Andrew Poturalski and Dan Renouf had two assists apiece, with Roy and Saarela adding one each as well. The Checkers posted their second consecutive 1-1-1 week to finish off 2018.