After 30 games of the 2016-17 AHL season, the Charlotte Checkers are 11-17-2 and currently sit last in the Central Division and 29th in the league.
Needless to say, it’s far from the start the boys in red wanted.
There are many factors that play into the Checkers’ poor performance so far this year. Goaltending has been a constant issue for the Checkers. AHL rookie Alex Nedeljkovic has had a rough time adjusting in his first professional season and has recorded an abysmal 3-12-0 record with a 3.44 goals against average and a .876 save percentage.
However, help is on its way in the form of Michael Leighton who returned to Charlotte after filling in for the injured Eddie Lack who suffered a concussion and was out of the Hurricanes lineup for an extended period of time. Leighton has played well for the Checkers and will most likely receive the bulk of starts moving forward.
One of the consistent nagging problems for the Checkers is offensive production. After strong starts from the pair of forwards, Derek Ryan and Brock McGinn were recalled to Carolina which caused a big hit to the Checkers’ offense. Rookie Andrew Poturalski has had a strong start and currently leads the team with 19 points, but other forwards such as Sergey Tolchinsky and Valentin Zykov need to step up if the Checkers are to be competitive down the stretch.
The Checkers did get Phil Di Giuseppe back from the Hurricanes a couple of weeks ago, but even his return hasn’t been enough to spark the stagnant offense, which has scored just 2.37 goals per game, second-worst in the AHL.
Special teams have not been a strong suit either. The Checkers rank dead last on the man advantage at 11.1% despite having the seventh most opportunities in the league. Moving forward, the Checkers will need to improve that percentage in order to improve overall offensive production. To their credit, the penalty kill is at least respectable, ranking 19th at 80.9%.
The schedule has also done the Checkers no favors. They have spent most of the first half of the season on extended road trips which can be tough on a young team, as there can often be a stretch of four games in five nights, along with significant travel on many nights.
Fortunately for the team, after they return home from their current road trip, they play a majority of the rest of their games — 26 games out of 40 — at Bojangles Coliseum, where they have posted a 8-4-0 record this season.
Coach Ulf Samuelsson’s first season in charge has been a challenge, to say the least. The recalls of Ryan, McGinn, Leighton and Matt Tennyson clearly changed the season for the Checkers, and they are likely not returning anytime soon. In order to right the ship, the team will need to get all sides clicking — and learn how to cope with their new reality — if they are to turn this season around.