Home sweet home. The Charlotte Checkers finally returned to Bojangles Coliseum for their home-opening series last weekend against the Hershey Bears.
The Checkers began their weekend with a thrilling 4-3 shootout win over the Bears, capped off by Martin Necas’ heroics in the shootout. Necas scored the game-winning shootout goal but did not otherwise factor in on the score sheet.
Charlotte got off to a hot start after Nicolas Roy scored his fifth goal of the season to put the Checkers up 1-0. The two teams traded goals throughout the game. Janne Kuokkanen added his fourth goal of the season late in the first period. Jake Bean registered his first career AHL point with an assist on Julien Gauthier’s third period goal. He made a heads up play, waiting patiently for Gauthier to get to the side of the net.
The two teams remained deadlocked through the overtime period and Vellucci made the decision to send Morgan Geekie up to shoot first for the Checkers. He capitalized to give the Checkers the first goal of the shootout with an impressive backhand goal in tight. Geekie impressed during Checkers camp and has strong hands in close with a soft touch that helps him beat goaltenders. Necas also capitalized after both shooters couldn’t convert for Hershey and the Checkers came out on top.
Both teams exchanged an abundance of penalties throughout the game. Hershey converted three of seven chances but Charlotte was only able to convert one of eight. But fear not: the Checkers are not suffering from special teams woes along the lines of what the Hurricanes are dealing with. The Checkers rank 12th in the league in power play percentage at 22.6% - converting 7 out of 31 chances. Take this wacky game out of the picture and their percentage would move up to around 26%. Take Charlotte’s second game against Hershey out of the picture and it moves up to 40%. A string of bad luck may have hurt the Checkers chances this weekend but it won’t become habit.
The Checkers’ luck ran out against Hershey in game two. Charlotte was shut out 2-0 on Saturday by Vitek Vanecek, who earned the start over top goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov who has struggled to adjust to the AHL game. Vanecek stopped all 25 shots that came his way. Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 22 shots and Trevor Carrick generated five shots on offense but none found the back of the net.
Thought(s) of the Week
Charlotte Checkers PR extraordinaire Nick Niedzielski was the man on the ground this weekend as yours truly was in Raleigh watching the Canes embarrass themselves against the Colorado Avalanche (still not over how atrocious that game was). He captured a very strong quote from Checkers head coach Mike Vellucci on Saku Maenalanen and his play so far. Maenalanen was a healthy scratch in the Checkers 2-0 loss against the Bears on Saturday. Take a look:
Saku Maenalanen was a healthy scratch tonight, here’s what coach had to say about the decision#Checkers pic.twitter.com/EwmDlD5XrH— Nick Niedzielski (@nickski15) October 21, 2018
Some very strong things to dissect. Vellucci is the right candidate in Charlotte and has been trying to cultivate an atmosphere of hard work and strong effort much like Rod Brind’Amour has attempted in his short time as head coach.
But his comments on Maenalanen are a bit surprising when it comes to his play. He played very well in last weekend’s series against the Utica Comets and Syracuse Crunch. Maenalanen had his first AHL goal and created offensive chances. Something must have not sat well with Vellucci during the Checkers shootout win against Hershey on Friday. Maenalanen recorded three shots but didn’t factor in on the score sheet.
Martin Necas played his first two games since being sent down to Charlotte and was notably the shootout hero on Friday. He should not be down in the Queen City long and will be relied on in an action packed week. He was slotted alongside Maenalanen and Andrew Potrualski on the first line on Friday and stayed with Poturalski on Saturday while Maenalanen sat and Greg McKegg took on first line duties. It would be nice to see Gauthier slotted next to Necas’ skill set but don’t expect Vellucci to break up the Checkers stellar second line anytime soon.
Player of the Week
With the short weekend, it’s tough to pinpoint one player who went above and beyond. However, Julien Gauthier continues to build on a strong sophomore campaign after a less than impressive rookie campaign. His goal in the third period of the Checkers win on Friday provided momentum for Charlotte. He could be a dark horse candidate for a call-up perhaps later in the season.
Charlotte heads back out on buses and planes in what will be a busy week ahead as they start the week by taking on the Utica Comets on Wednesday. Charlotte beat Utica 4-3 on Dennis Robertson’s late goal from the point to put the Checkers up with less than two minutes to go. The Checkers will then turn their attention to the Binghamton Devils on Friday before taking on the Syracuse Crunch again on Saturday.
Canes netminder Scott Darling was assigned to Charlotte for a conditioning stint after suffering a lower-body injury in the September 30th preseason game against Nashville. He’ll get the start against Utica. He posted a .927 save percentage and a 2.20 goals against average in 26 games with the Rockford IceHogs in 2014-15, his last season in which he saw AHL action.