After dropping five of their last ten games to teams below them in the standings, the Charlotte Checkers started this weekend off with a statement game against one of the league’s best. Heading into the night, the Oklahoma City Barons held the top spot in the AHL with 73 points, eight more than the Checkers. The Checkers have been in top form against the Barons this year, but tonight’s game was by far the most decisive victory for Charlotte as they came away with a dominating 6-2 win and now post a 5-1-1 advantage in the season series.
The Checkers controlled much of the play for the entire 60 minutes. Oklahoma City was able to muster brief pockets of pressure in the game, but strong defensive play from the Checkers prevented the Barons from mounting any kind of sustained effort. The beginning of the third period held the only real tense moments for Charlotte as the Barons netted two quick goals to start the frame – Linus Omark at 1:39 and Chris VandeVelde just two minutes later. The two goals brought the Barons to within three as the Checkers began the final twenty minutes with a 5-0 lead.
Justin Shugg answered OKC’s attempt at a rally, putting the Checkers back up by four after scoring a breakaway goal only 21 seconds after the Barons began their comeback. Shugg has been money on breakaways, scoring two beauties in his last two games. [Side note: Hey Hurricanes – get this boy up to the big leagues to show the Canes how to score in a shootout!]
AJ Jenks put in another solid game for Charlotte since coming over in a trade from Florida, picking up the game’s first star for his two goal effort. Jenks opened the scoring at 13:58 of the first period, banging home his own rebound on the powerplay. His second of the night, also on the powerplay, came on a tip from a Joe Sova shot from the point in the second period.
Captain Brett Sutter and All-Star Chris Terry picked up second period goals as well to send the Checkers to the second intermission with that 5-0 lead. Sutter’s goal came on a beauty of a cross-crease pass from Zach Boychuk. Terry’s goal was an interesting one as he fired a shot from the blueline that beat goaltender Olivier Roy and blasted right through the back of the net. Play continued for a few seconds, but thankfully the referee had eyes on the puck and was able to blow the whistle and signal the goal. Roy was in the net in relief of David LeNeveu who was chased from the net after Jenks’ second goal had given the Checkers a 4-0 lead.
John Muse, always strong in net for the Checkers, stopped 26 of the Barons’ 28 shots en route to his tenth win of the season. Muse started the game without a back-up as Dave Caruso was late getting into town after being signed to another PTO to help the Checkers while Mike Murphy is up with the Hurricanes. Given the Checkers and Hurricanes goaltending drama this season, it could have been a disaster if anything had happened with Muse, but Muse was on his game and didn’t need the help and Caruso made it to the game midway through the second period. [See The Great Goalie Depression for more on the tendy drama]
Official Game Sheet: here
Tomorrow night will feature a rematch between the two teams. You can catch game audio and/or video at 7pm EST on www.ahllive.com. The game will also be broadcast on Time Warner Cable digital channel 520 throughout the Carolinas.