The Charlotte Checkers kick off their first home series of the year today when they take on the Chicago Wolves in the first of a two-game set. The Wolves (6-0-1-0)are currently ranked first in the Midwest Division with 13 points and are tied for 2nd in the Western Conference. While these two teams have similar records, the Checkers have a much larger goal differential with a +13 compared to the +2 the Wolves have right now. The Checkers goal differential is inflated thanks to their weekend sweep against the Peoria Rivermen a week ago when they outscored them 10-0. Charlotte has made a habit out of getting into a lot of high scoring games this year, so they have a few blowouts on their record right now that definitely help out their goal-differential. Regardless, the Wolves are going to be their toughest test of the season thus far.
Wolves Stats from the AHL's web site
Carolina fans may notice a familiar face on the Wolves roster in Derek Joslin but the Wolves sport a few other names you may recognize. The most notable one is Zack Kassian, who was formerly a first round pick of the Buffalo Sabres before being sent to the Vancouver Canucks in a trade involving Cody Hodgson last year. Kassian is off to a pretty good start for the Wolves with 7 points in 9 games, which is pretty good for a 21-year-old with essentially only one year of professional hockey experience under his belt. He is also scoring on over 20% of the shots he has taken so far, so luck has played a slight role in his year so far.
A few other former/future NHL-ers on the Wolves roster are Andrew Gordon, Chris Tanev, Andrew Ebbett and Brett Sterling. All of these players are fringe guys for the most part, aside from Tanev who has spent a decent amount of time with the Vancouver Canucks over the last couple of seasons. The Wolves don't appear to have anyone that is performing at a superb rate offensively like the Checkers do right now, but that hasn't been much of a problem for them as they have won six of their nine games this year. The Wolves also appear to have their scoring more balanced throughout the lineup, whereas Drayson Bowman and Zach Boychuk have accounted for over 36% of the Checkers goals.
Other players worth keeping an eye on in Chicago's lineup are defenseman Kevin Cannauton, who has the highest shot rate on the team with 2.89 shots per game. He was Vancouver's third round pick in 2009 and while he hasn't produced many points, he has definitely been giving the Wolves a decent amount of offense with the number of shots he has created. Bill Sweatt, Nathan Longpre and Andrew Gordon are also players who are creating a decent amount of shots and are worth taking note of if you're a Checkers fan. However, it's worth mentioning that the 2.89 shots per game Cannauton is producing is the same rate Drayson Bowman has this year, and he is ranked only third on the Checkers.
As for the goaltending matchup, Eddie Lack has gotten most of the starts for the Wolves this season and he has a save percentage of .910. It's likely that we are going to see him in both games since there is a two-day break in the series but it's possible that former Bemidji State Beaver Matt Climie could get the start in one of these games, as well. The Checkers, meanwhile, usually rotate starting goalies but we could see Dan Ellis play on a more regular basis soon as he has outperformed Justin Peters this year.
The Checkers have scored more than the Wolves this year and have created more shots per game (32.2 vs. 27.4), so this looks like a series the Checkers should be favored in, but the Wolves have found ways to win this year despite not putting up flashy numbers. Like I said earlier, this is going to be the Checkers toughest test of the young season and it wouldn't surprise me if both games are very close.