How good were the Checkers this weekend? Let's see, they won all three of their games (on the road nonetheless), outscored their opponents 16-4, outshot them 101-70, went 8/16 on the powerplay and were perfect on the penalty kill. I should also mention that all but five players who suited up for the Checkers this weekend recorded at least one point and have four players who are scoring more than a point-per-game. Now if that isn't an impressive performance then I don't know what is and the funniest thing about this is that no one would have predicted this after watching the first half of their Friday night game against Grand Rapids.
The Checkers got into quite a hole early in that game, falling behind 4-1 in the second period and it looked like things were going to get ugly and they did...for Grand Rapids. The Griffins took five consecutive penalties and the Checkers eventually made them pay with powerplay goals from Jerome Samson, Justin Faulk and Zach Boychuk. The Checkers just seemed to build off that as Chris Terry would tack on a shorthanded goal in the third period to give Charlotte the lead and an empty netter to ice it.
This onslaught would continue the next two nights against the Peoria Rivermen as they shut them out 4-0 and 6-0 respectively and pretty much dominated the Rivermen in all phases of the game. The first game was very notable as Jeremy Welsh scored two goals that game, the first two of his professional career, and he definitely got a little bit lucky on the second one as the puck took a couple of odd bounces before getting into the net. This was a recurring theme for the Checkers this entire weekend as just about everything seemed to go there way in all three games. When you're converting on 50% of your powerplay opportunities then you know that the dice are rolling in your favor just a little bit.
I usually don't pay much attention to shooting percentages in an eight game sample size because randomness is usually at an all-time high, but I just can't help but point out the conversion rates for some of the Charlotte players. For instance, let's take a look at the hottest Charlotte forward right now, Drayson Bowman, who scored three goals this weekend (one in each game) and is now tied for the AHL lead in goals with seven. His shooting percentage right now is 31.7%. There is no way we can expect him to sustain that for the entire year because very few players possess that much shooting talent and I'm going to guess that Bowman isn't one of them. While there is no doubt he has played well, he has definitely got a bit lucky this year too. His first goal in the Peoria goal where he scored on a long-shot from the boards is a good example of that. This is pretty ironic when you consider that Bowman had little to no shooting luck in the NHL last year.
Chris Terry, Brett Sutter and Zach Boychuk are other players who have very high shooting percentages for the Checkers this year (Sutter's spiked to 27.8% thanks to his hatty on Sunday night) and while I doubt any of the will continue to shoot this will, it's hard to not love the way they have played to start the year, especially Boychuk. Next to Bowaman, Boychuk has been the Checkers most impressive forward and I would argue that he has been a little more impressive than Bowman when you look at how much offense he is generating.
Boychuk has generated at least 3.5 shots per game this year and had 12 shots on goal in last weekend alone. His shooting percentage is subject to decline, but I have a feeling that he will still manage to be a very effective offensive player even when that crashes back down to earth. I'm also noticing him playing much stronger in all three zones than he did last season. He's done a great job at forcing turnovers and being the one guy on his line that is keeping the wheels going. I considered him an outside shot at most to make the NHL out of camp this year, but he has been nothing but impressive so far this year.
Something else I want to point out is Jerome Samson and how he hasn't been receiving the good fortune that the majority of the Checkers forward corps has thus far. It was only this weekend when he scored his first non-empty net goal and he's seen less than 7% of his shots find the back of the net so far this year. The good news is that he has been the team's best forward at generating shots on goal and has been a key player in the Checkers offense even if the goals aren't coming to him, which they will eventually if he continues to shoot at this rate.
Marc-Andre Gragnani had a four-point performance for the Checkers on Friday night, all four of which came on the powerplay
Chris Terry has been suspended three games for elbowing a Grand Rapids player on Friday night. The suspension was effective starting Sunday. Tough loss for the Checkers but it opens up the possibility for Victor Rask to be in the lineup every night until then.
Justin Faulk did not play in Sunday night's game. I'm not sure why other than to possibly give Justin Krueger some action. I'm not sure why Faulk was the one to sit since he has been terrific so far.
While there is no denying how well the Checkers played this weekend, I think it's worth mentioning that Peoria has scored a total of 10 goals in 7 games this year. In other words, they haven't been playing good at all.
Justin Peters gave up four goals on nine shots before being pulled in favor of Dan Ellis, who went on to stop all 15 shots he faced and earn a 27-save shutout the next night. I don't want to say that this is a goaltending controversy since the Checkers usually rotate goalies but Ellis appears to have the hot-hand as the starter for now.
Michal Jordan, Rasmus Rissanen and Justin Krueger quietly picked up two assists each this weekend.
The Checkers are second to only Rochester in the Western Conference in goals for and are tied for third with Hamilton and Milwaukee in goals allowed.
Charlotte has one more game on the road this week when they take on the Milwaukee Admirals on Halloween night, then they finally have their first home series on November 4th & 5th against the Chicago Wolves. The series against the Wolves should be a good test for the Checkers, as they currently lead the Midwest Division.