If you missed it last night, part 1 of my preview for the Charlotte Checkers vs. Chicago Wolves playoff series provided an update on the Checkers playoff push and the team’s key players.
Part 2 will dive into the match up versus the Chicago Wolves.
Charlotte Checkers vs. Chicago Wolves regular season results
The Checkers had a rough time against the Wolves during the regular season. They went a below average 2-5-1 vs. the Central Division’s top team, and they allowed Chicago to average 3.75 goals per game during the regular season series. Conversely, the Checkers only averaged 2.5 goals per game and had a hard time stopping the Wolves stars Wade Megan and Kenny Agostino. Both Megan and Agostino finished top five on the AHL scoring list during the regular season. Megan finished with an outstanding 11 points in 8 games vs. the Checkers, and Agostino had 10 points in 6 games against Charlotte. The Checkers lack of answers to stopping Chicago’s key players was the main story of their games during the season.
The Chicago Wolves
Don’t let the name confuse you. Even though they are based in Chicago the Wolves are the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues. Last season the Wolves finished with a 33-35-5 record, which was good enough for one spot below the Checkers in the Central Division. Things drastically changed this year as they improved with a 44-19-8 record and produced the AHL’s leading scorer. Kenny Agostino played 65 games during the year and he finished with a whopping 83 points, a 24-point improvement from the season prior in the same amount of games. To top that all off he was recently awarded the Les Cunningham Award as the league’s Most Valuable Player. Agostino was a former fifth round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2010. Now not only do the Wolves boast the AHL’s top point scorer, they also roll out the league’s top goal scorer as well with Wade Megan. In 73 games played, Megan tallied 33 goals and added an equally impressive 33 assists to go along with it. Chicago also dressses a defensemen that Hurricanes fans are familiar with, but never really got to see play. James Wisniewski signed a player tryout contract with the Wolves on January 26th, and he has played well for them on the back end. In 21 regular season games, Wisniewski has 4 goals and 7 assists while also posting a +10. He has been a solid veteran NHL presence for Chicago on the blue line and he has made sure to capitalize on his offensive opportunities when he’s had them. Other key Wolves the Checkers need to watch out for are forward Andrew Agozzino, forward Samuel Blais, and defenseman Vince Dunn.
Key match ups
I expect to see Phil Di Giuseppe on the ice every time the Wolves have Kenny Agostino and Wade Megan on the ice. Di Giuseppe is skilled enough to shut down at least one of those two players on the defensive end and also be able to contribute heavily on the offensive end as well. He has solid speed and he is strong enough to keep up with any player on the rink in the AHL at all times. I also think that the Checkers will try to keep Andrew Miller, Aleksi Saarela, and Valentin Zykov away from the Wolves top defensive pairing of Vince Dunn and Chris Butler to give them a chance against a bit of a weaker pairing to get the offense going. It is hard to say though exactly what the matchups will be until right before game time. The Checkers could potentially still be missing Saarela, Lucas Wallmark and Danny Kristo all for game one of the series. All are day to day and will likely be game time decisions. Who is able to play, could make a big difference in how the Checkers pick and choose their match ups against Chicago.
How the Checkers win
The Checkers absolutely have to find a way to slow down the potent Wolves offense. They must improve defensively from how they played the Wolves during the regular season or else it is going to lead to an early exit from the post-season. The Checkers will also need a big goaltending performance from their new go to guy, Tom McCollum. He needs to at least have two great games at home to start out the series because home ice advantage has been so big for the Checkers this season. The Checkers were a tremendous 27-10-1 at home this year so, it is crucial for them to build whatever momentum they can at home before going on the road against a team that basically dominated them during the regular season. Charlotte also has to make sure that they capitalize on their power play chances when they come their way. The Checkers finished an abysmal 30 out of 30 on the power play during the season but now that they are in the playoffs, they cannot afford to not capitalize on almost every opportunity that they get with the man advantage. The team’s key offensive players including Saarela, Wallmark, Poturalski, Miller and Di Giuseppe all have to step up on offense and create chances for themselves and their teammates every time they are on the rink.
The Checkers are currently playing with house money. They squeaked into the final spot of the playoffs on the last day of the regular season. Not many people are expecting them to win this series, and now this is there chance to surprise the hockey world and pounce on their opponent. Chicago is the team that finished first in the division and is playing with all the pressure live up to that hype that they have created for themselves during the regular season. The Checkers just need to go out there on Thursday night, play loose and feed off the crowd that will be behind them in Bojangles Coliseum.
The puck drops a little bit after 7pm at Bojangles’ Coliseum in Charlotte. Those not local to Charlotte and unable to make the trip can find a live radio stream of the game on the team’s home page.