Check out also other “playoff day” coverage at Canes and Coffee that includes a Canes fan playoff primer with draft pick implications and a roundup of former Hurricanes playing in the 2017 NHL playoffs.
Charlotte Checkers brief season summary
The Charlotte Checkers entered the 2016-2017 season with high hopes after barely missing out on the playoffs at the end of last season. The start of the new year saw new faces added to the roster including Haydn Fleury, Roland McKeown, Lucas Wallmark, Valentin Zykov, Matt Tennyson, Mitchell Heard, Connor Brickley, Michael Leighton, and Alex Nedeljkovic. The team also returned key players from the year prior including Derek Ryan, Brock McGinn, Trevor Carrick, Sergey Tolchinksy, and Andrew Poturalski. The team also debuted their third head coach in three seasons with former Rangers assistant and teammate of Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson.
The season got off to a solid start for the Checkers, with the team going 7-3-0 in their first ten games of the year. Players like rookie Andrew Poturalski, veteran forward Derek Ryan, and veteran goaltender Michael Leighton were just three of the many Checkers to start out the season hot for Charlotte and help carry them to the top of the standings. But the early season success would be short-lived after the Hurricanes called up key players Derek Ryan, Brock McGinn, and Matt Tennyson within a two-day period on November 10-11. It would take the Checkers a while to recover after losing arguably their top two offensive players and top defensemen to NHL call-up. The Checkers would hit their lowest point on Saturday, January 7 when they fell to the Chicago Wolves 5-2 and had fallen to a 13-20-2 record at almost the halfway point of the season. From that moment on the Checkers have punched, fought, and clawed their way back into the post-season race with only three games to go. Ever since their loss on January 7 the Checkers have gone an outstanding 26-9-3. During that time players like Phil Di Giuseppe, Lucas Wallmark, Andrew Miller, Hadyn Fleury, and recent new addition Aleksi Saarela (profiled HERE last week) have been essential in the Checkers big post-season push.
How the Checkers make the playoffs
If the AHL season ended today, the Checkers would be locked into the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division. What can be confusing about the AHL playoff qualifications, is that standings are not determined by points but by winning percentage. This is because not all AHL teams play the same amount of games, so it is not totally fair to go by points because some team’s play more games than others. The Checkers currently hold a .568 winning percentage with three games left in the season. The problem is the Cleveland Monsters who are the other team fighting for the final playoff spot in the Central Division. The Monsters also boast a .568 winning percentage, but they only have two games left to play. If the season ended in a tie between the two squads, then Charlotte also holds the playoff tiebreaker over Cleveland.
The Checkers control their own destiny at this point, which is a very familiar territory for this team. They also controlled their destiny at the end of last season but ended up sputtering out and losing their last five games of the year to barely miss out on the post-season. Do not expect that type of outcome from this year’s team. Right now, the Checkers are one of the hottest squads in the AHL, boasting a 7-2-1 in their last ten games. The team’s top two lines have been buzzing with players including Aleksi Saarela, Andrew Miller, Phil Di Giuseppe, and Patrick Dwyer stepping up in big moments and delivering in the clutch when the Checkers need a goal or a big play. Conversely, the Monsters are also one of the hottest teams as of late in the AHL going 8-1-1 in their last ten games. Their only loss is to to the Checkers at home. But the Monsters did just lose one of their key players to NHL call-up in Sonny Milano who has been very active in each game the Checkers have played Cleveland this season.
To end the year, the Checkers will play the Central Division’s top two teams in the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Chicago Wolves. They have had success vs. the Griffins going 4-2-0 in their six prior games against them. If the Checkers stay disciplined, avoid taking bad penalties and make sure to capitalize on their own power play opportunities, then I think there is a great chance the Checkers could beat the Griffins in both games. On the other hand, the Chicago have given Charlotte problems this year. The Checkers have gone an underwhelming 2-5-0 during the season, vs. the Wolves and to make matters more difficult they will be playing on the road. Checkers’ goaltender Tom McCollum must stand tall against the Central Division’s top team and put up a strong opening period performance for the Checkers to have a solid chance to win away from home versus the Wolves. I do not see the Cleveland Monsters losing either of their last two games of the season, so I feel that it is essential for the Checkers to win out or else the Monsters will take the final playoff spot in the Central Division.