After earning points in both games last weekend, the Checkers continued their hot start to the season by taking two of their three games this weekend, improving their record to 3-1-1. The Checkers started things off on the right foot with a 3-2 win over the Milwaukee Admirals and carried the momentum over to the next night by beating the Rockford Ice Hogs 2-1. Unfortunatley, they would fail to complete the weekend sweep as Rockford defeated them 5-4 on Sunday night, giving the Checkers their first regulation loss of the season. The performance against Rockford was disappointing as the Checkers were heavily outshot 41-27 in that game and the score likely would have been 5-3 if it wasn't for a fluke goal with two seconds left. Still, it's hard to be too upset about how the Checkers have started the year but there are a couple things I'm a bit concerned about.
In the three games this weekend, Charlotte was outshot 103-93 and they were beaten pretty badly in the Rockford game on Sunday. This goes hand-in-hand with the fact that the Checkers have been taking a lot of penalties. They were shorthanded for 51 minutes in the three games over the weekend and handed Milwaukee/Rockford 18 powerplays, something that came back to haunt them in the second Rockford game as the Ice Hogs game-winner came on the man advantage. The Checkers did a fine job of taking advantage of their own powerplay opportunities as they scored four PPGs this weekend, but their tendency to take bad penalties late in games was going to hurt them sooner or later, and it did on Sunday.
That aside, the Checkers have a lot to be happy about this year and one player whose performance they are really satisfied with right now is Drayson Bowman's. Many thought Bowman would be a candidate to make the NHL this year but for now, he is one of the Checkers best forwards and he made his presence felt this weekend by scoring four goals in three games. Bowman has never put up terribly impressive numbers since turning pro, but one thing we have always known is that he is a skilled offensive player and a talented goal-scorer, something he showed off well on his goal against Milwaukee. He also showed off how good his release is on his first goal against Rockford on Saturday which came off a big rebound from the Ice Hogs goaltender. His other two goals were the result of him picking up loose change in front of the net or getting a good deflection, something that good offensive players have to do.
On the subject of players with a lot of talent, Zach Boychuk continued his fantastic start to the season by scoring a pair of goals this weekend, giving him three on the year and six points in five games. He could have easily added another to his total in Saturday's game against Rockford as he had eight shots in that contest alone. This was considered a "make-or-break" year for Boychuk and while the NHL may not be an option for now, it's great to see Boychuk take full advantage of his playing time in Charlotte. Zac Dalpe was also very impressive this weekend as he scored his first goal of the season and had four points in three games. His goal was a bit of a lucky break, but he played a big role in setting up Bowman's powerplay goal on Sunday against Rockford and was given the primary assists on both of Carolina's goals on Saturday.
Another player who stood out in the three games this weekend was youngster Victor Rask, who scored his first AHL goal on Friday night and had three points over the weekend. He ended up being scratched in Saturday night's game to get AJ Jenks into the lineup (as that was the plan heading into the weekend) but Rask was able to make an impact whenever he received playing time. Rask showed good awareness on his first goal as he went right to the front of the net to tap-in a perfect centering pass from Jerome Samson to finally get on the scoresheet. Hopefully we will see more of this from Rask in the upcoming weeks as he looks to cement his spot on the Checkers.
Marc-Andre Gragnani also had a very impressive weekend by picking up four assists, three of which coming on the powerplay. With Justin Faulk missing Saturday night's game with an injury, the Checkers needed someone to step up in those situations and Gragnani managed to do just that as one of his assists came on the tying goal in Saturday's game against Rockford. While it's good to see Gragnani play well, the better news for Charlotte and Carolina fans is that Faulk was able to return to the lineup on Sunday night and he recorded two assists in that game, giving him four on the year.
Lastly, it's hard not to say enough good things about the play of back-up goaltender Dan Ellis this weekend. He got the start on Saturday night's game against Rockford and was rock solid in stopping 35 of 36 shots. The Checkers had a 42-36 shot adavantage in that game but Rockford still produced a lot of offense and Ellis played a huge role to keep the Checkers out in front, especially late in the game when they had to kill off a late Michal Jordan penalty. Peters appears to have the starting job locked down for now but Ellis' play in this game was very encouraging.
- Welsh has still yet to get on the scoresheet or produce many shots, but he has been ice for a lot of goals. There's only so much statistical data available online in the AHL so I can't speak much of Welsh's ability to drive the play but hopefully he can start to get on the scoresheet soon. Welsh also took a bad hit to the head from Milwaukee's Scott Valentine on Friday but he appears to be no worse for wear despite that.
- Jerome Samson continues to be a machine when it comes to getting shots on goal. Unfortunately, his only goal this season was on an empty-netter but good things should come his way if he continues to shoot the puck this much.
- I mentioned that the Checkers have a problem with taking bad penalties and it appears that the main culprits are Rasmus Rissanen and Tim Wallace. Blanchard also has a lot of PIMs but he fought Michael Latta in the Milwaukee game so that probably boosted his total a little.
- Sean Dolan scores his first goal of the year this weekend on a wrap-around chance.