The Charlotte Checkers domination of the Peoria Rivermen continued this weekend as they took both games against them in two-game series this weekend. These two wins did not come as easily as they did a couple weeks ago, though as the Rivermen put up a much stronger fight and responded well after getting shutout in back-to-back games. Still, in the end it was the Checkers who came out on top and the two wins improve their record to 9-3-0-1 on the season and give them a six-point lead in the South Division over the Houston Aeros and Oklahoma City Barons.
Charlotte struggled a bit during the first game of the series on Thursday night, falling behind 1-0 early and having to fight an uphill battle during the early stages. This was a problem for them early in the year, but this team always seemed to be able to battle back and reclaim control of the game and that's exactly what they did against Peoria. Shortly after Anthony Nigro scored the opening goal, Zach Boychuk answered for the Checkers to tie the game and Zac Dalpe added a powerplay goal later in the period to give the Checkers the lead. Peoria would respond in the second period with a pair of goals including a powerplay strike from Ian Cole to reclaim the lead for the Rivermen. Once again, though, the Checkers just continued to fight back and their hard work payed off in the third period with Jeremy Welsh tying the game. Drayson Bowman would then give the Checkers the lead off a rebound chance to score his 10th goal of the season and give the Checkers a 4-3 lead with less than 10 minutes remaining.
This would be a lead that didn't last long for the Checkers as the Rivermen were able to tie the game via a late goal by Derek Nesbitt, who scored twice in this series. The late goal did not demoralize Charlotte, though and they were able to get the win in overtime after Zach Boychuk made a terrific individual effort in the neutral zone to force a turnover and score on a breakaway. Some may say that the Checkers made this win a lot harder than it needed to be, but Peoria put forth a great effort and made the Checkers work for this win. The next night would be a little different.
The opening script was a bit similar with the Rivermen jumping on top early with a 1-0 lead in the first period with a powerplay goal by Taylor Chorney, but things changed dramatically after that. The Checkers would go on to outshoot Peoria 32-12 in the final two periods and outscore the Rivermen 3-1 in the second period. Zach Boychuk played a big role in the comeback as he scored the initial game-tying goal and recorded a secondary assist on Chris Terry powerplay goal. Speaking of which, Terry himself had a big game with a two-goal night and he now has three tallies in as many games since returning from his suspension. Justin Faulk would add another goal in the third period to put this one away for the Checkers, who coasted to a 4-1 victory.
That goal was Faulk's only mark on the scoresheet this weekend, but he is still maintaining an impressive scoring rate with 14 points in 11 games. That puts him tied for third in the AHL scoring race and when you add in his 31 shots in 14 games, it's hard not to be impressed with the season he has had thus far. Also tied for third in the AHL's scoring race is Zach Boychuk, who added four points to his total this weekend and is still registering over three shots per game. With Drayson Bowman inevitably cooling down, I was curious about who would replace his goal production but it looks like Boychuk has done just that, at least this weekend. The return of Chris Terry obviously helps that cause, too since he has been one of the team's top-scorers for the last few years.
One player who has rebounded after a bit of an off-week is Zac Dalpe, who had a goal and a pair of assists this weekend. Dalpe's season got off to a tough start with him missing the first game with an illness and he hasn't exactly been putting up the numbers like Boychuk and Bowman have this year. What he has done, though, is turn in a pretty good season with 10 points in 12 games. Dalpe is also registering nearly three shots per game and has been getting some bad shooting luck (8.8% shooting percentage), so I think we could see him get some more goals relatively soon. Also in this category is poor Jerome Samson, who was held off the scoresheet completely despite registering eight shots on goal.
Riley Nash also had a very productive weekend with three assists in two games and so did Jeremy Welsh, who picked up a pair of points. These two aren't producing as much offense as some of the other guys on the team both in terms of shots and boxcar stats, but I think they could be players who may begin to emerge once the big guns start to slump. Secondary scoring is always critical and these two along with Brett Sutter will play a big role in it as the year goes on.
- Bowman has actually seen some shooting regression as of late (he was clicking around 30-35% for most of October), but he has still been able to score frequently due to shooting the puck more often. He had 14 shots on goal in three games last week and four in two games this weekend. It's why I think him and Boychuk still have the potential for terrific offensive seasons even if the percentages catch up to them.
- Jerome Samson is still producing the most shots per game but hasn't been able to score much. I still feel like this is mostly bad luck and he should rebound soon. He along with Dalpe and Nash are guys I'm expecting to score more often as the year goes on.
Up next for the Checkers is a critical weekend set in Texas against the San Antonio Rampage and the Houston Aeros.