Friday, January 31, 2014

Game 42 preview: Charlotte Checkers at Lake Erie Monsters

Good afternoon, the Checkers will look to extend their winning-streak to a season-high five games with a victory in Lake Erie tonight. Veteran goaltender Cam Ward (with the Checkers on a conditioning assignment), or the "new guy" as his locker reads, should get the start in net.

Ward has not played in a game since being injured on Dec. 31. He has gone 6-7-5 in 19 appearances this season with the Hurricanes.

Lake Erie and Charlotte have not played each other yet this season. Their two-game set will conclude on Saturday.

Puck Drop: 7:30 p.m. ET

TV/Radio info: Video AHL Live / Audio 730 AM Charlotte

Records: Checkers 21-19-1, Monsters 18-20-4

Projected Checkers lineup:

Chris Terry-Brett Sutter-Zach Boychuk
Greg Nemisz-Brody Sutter-Aaron Palushaj
Philippe Cornet-Victor Rask-Justin Shugg
Matt Marquardt-A.J. Jenks-Matthew Pistilli

Michal Jordan-Danny Biega
Rasmus Rissanen-Ryan Murphy
Mark Flood-Matt Corrente

Cam Ward
John Muse
Mike Murphy

Healthy scratches: Keegan Lowe, Brendan Woods

Injured: Nicolas Blanchard (Out since Jan. 17 with upper body injury), Jared Staal (out since Jan. 3 with unspecified injury).

* Sean Dolan (out since Nov. 30 with an upper-body injury) has been assigned to the ECHL's Florida Everblades for a conditioning stint.

Storylines: With Ward and defenseman Ryan Murphy joining the team, the Checkers have a bit more star-power than usual... Things have not gone well for Lake Erie as of late. The Monsters are 1-7-1 over their last nine games and barely defeated last-place Utica on Tuesday, 3-2, in a shootout. The Checkers can relate to the Monsters struggles, as Lake Erie and Charlotte are the only two teams in the AHL this season to drop seven consecutive contests... Lake Erie Rookie Joey Hishon -- a 2010 first-round draft pick who missed nearly two seasons with concussion problems -- has had a nice bounce-back season with 18 points in 30 games... Aaron Palushaj has points in each of his last seven games (Jan. 10-24: 6g, 5a), while Greg Nemisz has points in each of his last six games (Jan. 3-24: 3g, 5a) and goals in each of his last three (Jan. 19-24: 3g, 1a).

Western Conference standings update:

Dolan assigned to ECHL's Florida Everblades

The Charlotte Checkers announced on Friday that Sean Dolan has been assigned to the ECHL's Florida Everblades. 

Dolan has missed the last 21 games with an undisclosed upper-body injury suffered on Nov. 30. The 25-year-old is expected to be with the Everblades for at least their home games against Greenville on Friday and Saturday. 

Dolan is in his third season with the Checkers since signing a professional tryout offer after graduating from the University of Wisconsin, where he recorded 18 goals and 24 assists. He last appeared in the ECHL in December of 2011, where he played for the South Carolina Stingrays. 

Because of the area of his injury, Dolan has been able to skate with the Checkers throughout his recovery and was cleared for full-contact in practice last week. 

A.J. Jenks, who Charlotte signed from the Everblades to play forward after Nicolas Blanchard, Jared Staal and Dolan all were sidelined with injuries, is 20 games into his 25-game PTO. A roster decision will need to be made soon after the Checkers return from their current four-game road trip.

Jenks -- who has played well since joining the Checkers -- has two goals and two assists, while Dolan has 20 points (9g, 11a) in 111 career AHL games. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Cam Ward to have conditioning stint with Checkers

The season of the high-profile cameos looks like it will continue this weekend for the Checkers.

According to Hurricanes President and General Manager, Jim Rutherford, Cam Ward will join the Checkers for their two-game set in Lake Erie on Friday and Saturday as part of a conditioning stint.

Ward (who had a lower-body injury) was back on the ice for the 'Canes for the first time since Dec. 31 on Thursday. Following the morning skate, Carolina coach Kirk Muller told reporters that the 29-year-old goaltender would head out to join Charlotte later tonight.

"It's important that he go down and play a couple of games with Charlotte," Muller told the Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander. "I think that would be great for him for the simple reason, health-wise, that this is his first practice he's had. So we gave him the net for the full 40 minutes to get the timing and endurance back.

"The opportunity to go down there and play will get him in a good mindset. The biggest thing is. health-wise, that he can get through a game and he feels good and feels comfortable."

Ward has gone 6-7-5 in 19 appearances this season with the Hurricanes, while battling multiple injuries. The 2002 first-round pick (25th overall) has allowed 3.15 goals per game and has a .895 save-percentage.

Once Ward is fully healthy, it'll be interesting to see how things shake out in Raleigh with Anton Khudobin (9-4-0 since Ward went down) playing well and Justin Peters unable to re-join the Checkers without first clearing waivers.

Ward -- who last had a conditioning stint with Charlotte during the 2005-06 season -- joins a list of current and former NHL players that includes Ryan Murphy (currently with the Checkers), Khudobin, Peters, Elias Lindholm, Manny Malhotra and Rick DiPietro that have all seen time in Charlotte this year.

If Ward laces up on Friday, he will be the ninth goalie to start in net for the Checkers this season (Ward, Khudobin, Rob Madore, Rick DiPietro, Allen York, John Muse, Jesse Deckert, Mike Murphy, Peters). The previous franchise-record was five.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Palushaj on way back to Charlotte

After one game with Carolina, the Hurricanes have reassigned forward Aaron Palushaj to Charlotte. 

Palushaj, who leads the Checkers in points with 39 points (15g, 24a), finished Tuesday's 3-0 loss to Montreal with one shot and two hits in 9:35 of ice time. 

The 24-year-old has now appeared in two games for the Hurricanes this season. He made his debut on Jan. 5, in a 2-1 win for Carolina over Nashville at PNC Arena and has now played in 68 career NHL regular-season games with Montreal, Colorado and Carolina, scoring three goals and earning 11 assists (14 points). 

Palushaj should be back in time to join the Checkers for their visit to Lake Erie on Thursday. The former 44th overall pick in 2007, is currently on a seven-game point streak with Charlotte and has recorded points in 16 of his last 18 overall (9g, 16a).

“(Recalling Palushaj) was their call,” said coach Jeff Daniels of the Hurricanes on Wednesday morning to Checkers team writer Paul Branecky, prior to the reassignment of Palushaj. “They watch the games and they know what’s going on. He played well in that one game up top when he was there (on Jan. 5) and obviously he’s been a big part of our success over the last month and a half. He earned it.”

Because Monday's game at Norfolk was postponed due to the snow, Palushaj remains one of just four Checkers to appear in all 41 games this season, joining Victor Rask, Justin Shugg and Mark Flood. 

According to Branecky, Daniels also said that forward Brendan Woods (out since Jan. 17 with lower body injury) would have played on Tuesday night if the game had not been cancelled. Fellow, forward Sean Dolan (out since Dec. 1 with an upper body injury) participated in practice as well, while Nicolas Blanchard (out since Jan. 17 with upper body injury) got in some condition work while wearing a yellow non-contact jersey. 

Read more here:

The Checkers (21-19-1) have won eight of their last 10 games and currently sit one-point out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Acton suspended for late fight with Brody Sutter on Friday (Video)

The American Hockey League announced a one-game suspension of Oklahoma City Barons center Will Acton today for his instigator penalty against Brody Sutter during the final five minutes of Friday's game against the Charlotte Checkers

Acton -- who also dropped the gloves with Brett Sutter earlier in the game (see picture above) -- finished the 9-3 loss with a team-high 22 penalty minutes. He will miss Oklahoma City’s game Thursday (Jan. 30) vs. Toronto.

"It was good that we stuck together at the end with the fights," said Checkers forward Chris Terry after Friday's game. "But that’s the kind of stuff that you don’t want to see. You don’t want to wind up with an injury in a fight like that in a 9-3 game. I think we’re all good though. We stuck together."

"I like that guys had each other’s backs and stuck with it until the end," said Brett Sutter. "There were some good fights and those are the types of games that make you stronger as a team and we’ll just try to carry that on."

To see the tail end of the fight with Brody Sutter, scroll to the 3:59 mark of the video...

Here's a screenshot of the penalties from Friday's box score:


Checkers game in Norfolk postponed

Per AHL release...

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. ... The American Hockey League has announced that tonight’s game between the Charlotte Checkers and the Norfolk Admirals (AHL #637), scheduled to be played at Scope Arena in Norfolk, Va., has been postponed due to impending inclement weather.

The game has been rescheduled for Tuesday, March 4th at 7:15 p.m. ET. The Admirals have announced that tickets for tonight will be honored on March 4, or can be redeemed for a ticket to any remaining home game during the 2013-14 regular season.


Weather reports are predicting somewhere between five and eight inches of snow in the hours leading up to what would have been game time.

The Checkers are planning to take their bus back to Charlotte later today and then fly to Lake Erie on Thursday to begin what is now a four-game road trip.

The postponement is the first for the Checkers this season, while the Hurricanes have had to reschedule games twice already this month.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Hurricanes recall Aaron Palushaj

Per the team release...

RALEIGH, NC – Jim Rutherford, President and General Manager of the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes, today announced that the team has recalled forward Aaron Palushaj (pul-LOO-shigh) from the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League (AHL). Palushaj will travel with the team to Montreal tonight, and he will be eligible to play in the Hurricanes’ game on Tuesday at the Bell Centre against the Canadiens.

Palushaj, 24, has played in all 41 of the Checkers’ games thus far this season, and leads the team in assists (24) and points (39). The Livonia, MI, native made his Hurricanes debut on Jan. 5, in Carolina’s 2-1 win against Nashville at PNC Arena. Palushaj (6’0”, 187 lbs.) has played in 67 career NHL regular-season games with Montreal, Colorado and Carolina, scoring three goals and earning 11 assists (14 points). The St. Louis Blues drafted Palushaj in the second round, 44th overall, of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, and he signed with Carolina as a free agent on July 11, 2013.


Palushaj, who leads Charlotte with 39 points (t-7th AHL), is currently on a seven-game point streak (6g, 5a) with the Checkers. He has 25 points (9g, 16a) in his last 18 AHL games. During that time period and at least one point in 16 of those games to go along with eight multi-point outings. 

Palushaj's 24 assists rank 15th in the AHL and are at least five more than any other Charlotte skater this season. His 14 goals rank second on the team behind his roommate Zach Boychuk (18).

Checkers forwards Brandon Woods  (out since Jan. 17 with lower body injury) and Sean Dolan (out since Dec. 1 with an upper body injury) were full participants in Monday's practice and could be back in the lineup when Charlotte plays at Norfolk on Tuesday night.

Should Woods and Dolan both be unable to go, the Checkers would be short a forward and may look to the ECHL for a call-up.   

Read more here:

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Beau Schmitz assigned to Florida

When the Hurricanes assigned defenseman Ryan Murphy to Charlotte on Friday, it left the Checkers with eight healthy defenseman. 

As a result, the team assigned Beau Schmitz to the ECHL's Florida Everblades on Saturday. 

The 22-year-old, second-year blue-liner, had played well when given the chance this season in Charlotte. Injuries to Michal Jordan, Danny Biega and Rasmus Rissanen allowed Schmitz -- who began the season as Charlotte's seventh defenseman -- to play in 23 games, registering two goals, four assists. 

In Schmitz' most recent appearance, on Jan. 18, he posted a season-high plus-3 rating in a 6-1 win over the Texas Stars.

It's likely that Murphy, who was selected in the first round in 2011 by the Hurricanes, will remain in Charlotte until the NHL's Olympic break comes to a close at the end of February. So, barring an injury, it might be a little bit before Schmitz returns to the team. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Checkers roll on Race Night

The Checkers simply could not have scripted Race Night any better.

They scored a season-high nine goals, dropped the gloves six times, stopped a penalty shot, and had two players record hat tricks – one of which being of the Gordie Howe variety.

In one of the wilder games of the season, the Checkers (21-19-1) dispatched the Oklahoma City Barons, 9-3, in front of a sold out crowd of 8,160 at Time Warner Cable Arena on Friday.

“That had a bit of everything,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels, whose squad won for the fourth time in a row. “There were some goals, some fights, some saves. You know, it was a win and we just needed the win and we’ll move on from there.”

Zach Boychuk led the way with the second hat trick of his career, while Brett Sutter recorded a goal, a couple assists, and a fighting major.

“That was probably one of the most exciting games I’ve been apart of with the Checkers,” said Boychuk, who leads Charlotte with 18 goals this season. “You can’t get more exciting than that. You get a bunch of fights, a bunch of goals, a hat trick and a big win – that’s the most important part.”

John Muse, who tried to drop the gloves with Baron’s goaltender Chet Pickard late in the third before referees intervened, finished the game with 26 saves and won for the 12th time in his last 14 starts.

The win also tied Muse with Justin Peters for second all-time in wins as a Checkers goalie with 33.  

Both Aaron Palushaj and Greg Nemisz extended their current point streaks. Palushaj, whose streak is now at seven games, recorded a goal and an assist. Nemisz (one goal, one assist) remained one game behind his line mate, recording at least a point for his sixth consecutive contest.

After a week of struggling on the power play – and a 0-for-5 showing on Thursday – the Checkers’ special teams came out firing on all cylinders, scoring on their first three chances up a man.

When the final horn sounded, the Checkers had set a new franchise-record for power play goals in a single game with five (they finished the night 5-for-8).

“When we get in trouble, we try to over-pass the puck,” said Daniels. “Tonight, we just kept a shooting mentality and it wound up being one of those nights where the puck found the back of the net.”

Palushaj got the scoring started for the Checkers when he sent a slap shot whistling past Pickard (38 saves) at 10:41 in the first.

Brody Sutter earned the assist by laying out to block a Barons (16-22-6) shot. The puck kicked hard off him and sprung Palushaj for the breakaway.

“That was huge,” said Daniels. “I thought they came out and were a different team tonight than they were last night. They were trying to set a physical tone. I thought we responded in the right way. Obviously, Palushaj made a nice shot, but you’ve got to look back at Brody, who laid down and got the big block to set up that goal.”

Almost exactly a minute later, the Barons evened the score at one, when C.J. Stretch redirected a shot off the ice and then up and over the shoulder of Muse, who never had a chance at it.

Muse, who shutout the Barons on Thursday, continued his run of solid goaltending later in the first when he turned away a Tyler Pitlick penalty shot.

Goals by Nemisz, Brett Sutter and Boychuk sent the Checkers into the third period leading 4-2.

The Checkers then erupted for five goals in the third period (Boychuk, Boychuk, Victor Rask, Matt Marquardt and Rasmus Rissanen).

Ryan Murphy, who was assigned to the Checkers earlier in the day from the Hurricanes, finished the game with three assists, including a long cross-ice pass that led to Rask's goal. 

The win moved the Checkers to two games over .500 on the season and into seventh place in the Western Conference, a remarkable turnaround for a team that sat seven games below .500 on Dec. 7. 

“It’s a funny game,” said Chris Terry, who had four assists on the night. “Back in November, we were down in the dumps. We’d almost taken ourselves out of the playoffs. And now, we’re full of confidence, but at the same time we know what we’re doing and why we’re winning.”

 An earlier version of this story may have implied that John Muse had tied Justin Peters for the Checkers record for wins as a goalie. Muse tied Peters for second all-time. Mike Murphy holds the Checkers record for all-time wins.

Game 41 preview: Oklahoma City Barons at Charlotte Checkers

Good afternoon, tonight is "Race Night" at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Checkers will be looking to close out their two-game series with the Barons by picking up their sixth win against their West Division foe this season.

The Checkers defeated the Barons, 4-0, on Thursday on the strength of John Muse's third shutout of the season and two goals from Justin Shugg. Charlotte, who has won eight of its last 11 now sits a game above .500 after being seven games below that mark (8-14-1) as recently as Dec. 7.

Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET

TV/Radio info: Video AHL Live / Audio 730 AM Charlotte

Records: Checkers 20-19-1, Barons 16-21-6

Projected Checkers lineup: 

Chris Terry-Brett Sutter-Zach Boychuk
Greg Nemisz-Brody Sutter-Aaron Palushaj
Philippe Cornet-Victor Rask-Justin Shugg
Matt Marquardt-A.J. Jenks-Matthew Pistilli

Michal Jordan-Danny Biega
Rasmus Rissanen-Ryan Murphy
Mark Flood-Matt Corrente

John Muse
Mike Murphy

Healthy scratch: Beau Schmitz, Keegan Lowe

Injured: Brendan Woods (out since Jan. 17 with lower body injury), Sean Dolan (out since Dec. 1 with an upper body injury), Nicolas Blanchard (Out since Jan. 17 with upper body injury), Jared Staal (out since Jan. 3 with unspecified injury).

* All four players participated in the non-contact portion of Wednesday's practice.

Storylines: Based on reports from the morning skate, it looks like Ryan Murphy -- who was assigned to Charlotte by the Hurricanes this morning -- will play tonight. ... Time Warner Cable Arena is expected to be sold out. ... John Muse is one win away from tying Justin Peters for second all-time in wins as a Checkers goalie. ... Aaron Palushaj and Greg Nemisz each are in the middle of point streaks. ... Palushaj, who had an assist last night, has five goals and four assists over the last six games, while Nemisz (who scored last night) has two goals and four assists in his last five. ... As of right now, 25-percent of the Checkers wins this season have come via Oklahoma City. The franchise record for wins against one team in a single season is seven, which Charlotte has done twice (2010-11 against Norfolk & 2011-12 against Peoria). 

Western Conference standings update: 


Hurricanes assign Ryan Murphy to Charlotte

From the team release...

Jim Rutherford, President and General Manager of the National Hockey League's Carolina Hurricanes, today announced that the team has assigned defenseman Ryan Murphy to the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey Leahue (AHL).

Murphy, 20, has totaled two goals and nine assists (11 points) in 39 NHL games with Carolina this season. The Aurora, Ont., native is in his first full professional season since being drafted by the Hurricanes in the first round, 12th overall, of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Because he was reassigned today, Murphy (5’11”, 185 lbs.) is eligible to play with Charlotte during the NHL’s Olympic Break.


Based on reports from Friday morning's skate, the 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft will likely lace up tonight for the Checkers (20-19-1), with both Keegan Lowe and Beau Schmitz participating in a post-skate workout.   

Murphy has been a healthy scratch for the past four games in Raleigh. By joining the Checkers before today's 5 p.m. deadline, Murphy is now eligible to play for Charlotte through the NHL's Olympic break (assuming he stays in Charlotte until Feb. 9). 

There remains a possibility that Elias Lindholm -- the only other 'Canes player on an entry-level contract who is not playing in the Olympics -- could spend some time in Charlotte over the NHL's hiatus. 

The 2013 first-rounder (fifth overall) remains eligible to play with the Checkers because he has not accrued as many days on the Hurricanes roster as Murphy. Lindholm missed time while playing in the World Juniors for Sweden earlier this month, allowing him to be exempt from today's 5 p.m. deadline.  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Muse and Shugg lead Checkers to shutout win over Barons

John Muse isn’t flashy like Rick DiPietro could be.

He doesn’t have the prototypical body for a goaltender, a la Justin Peters, and he’s not ranked in the top-five in the American Hockey League in wins (15), goals against average (2.36), or save percentage (.923).

The 25-year-old, is soft-spoken – almost to the point where he can be difficult to hear at times – and, although he’s always willing to speak with the media, it’s clear he’d rather avoid the post-game spotlight.

But that’s where he found himself on Thursday night, after making 31 saves on the way to his third shutout of the season in a 4-0 win over the Oklahoma City Barons for the Checkers in front of 5,916 at Time Warner Cable Arena.

“It feels good to get the shutout,” said Muse, who has now won 11 of his last 13 starts. “But, it’s a testament to how the team played as a whole and it was good to get two points for us.”

It’s been Muse’s emergence as the Charlotte’s every-day goaltender – after not even making the team to begin the season – that has helped the Checkers rally from a four-point November, back into playoff contention over the past month and a half.

“He’s proven to be a winner throughout his career,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels of Muse, whose record now stands at 15-8-0. “He’s proved he can win at this level. Last year was kind of an off year for him and he’s bounced back this year and is always very focused and ready to play.”

The Checkers (20-19-1), who moved to within one point of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with the win, are 5-11-1 when anyone other than Muse gets the start in net.

“Muser’s playing with a lot of confidence right now,” said Checkers forward Justin Shugg, who scored his 10th and 11th goals of the season in the win. “As a team, we’re confident that he’s going to make that big save for us.”

Charlotte’s second line of Brody Sutter, Aaron Palushaj and Greg Nemisz got the scoring started in the first period, when Palushaj found Nemisz open in front of the net for a one-timer at 12:12.

The goal gave Nemisz at lease a point in all five of his games (2g, 4a) since joining the Checkers on Jan. 3 and the assist extended Palushaj’s current point streak to six games (5g, 4a).

“That line has been real good for us and Brody deserves a lot of credit because he’s been real solid down the middle of the ice,” said Daniels of his second line. “Palushaj, for the last month and a half, has been a go-to guy for us and (Nemisz) has come in with a fresh start and is playing with a lot of confidence.”

An unassisted Shugg goal put the Checkers up 2-0 one minute and 31 seconds after the Nemisz strike.

Shugg came racing in on a two-on-one, with Philippe Cornet to his left, before he flicked a wrist shot past Oklahoma City goalie Richard Bachman (24 saves).

“I was just working hard to win my battle on the wall and (the puck) squirted out for a nice two-on-one chance,” said Shugg. “I was thinking pass...thinking pass... and eventually, I had a breakaway and was able to open him up five-hole.”

The Checkers’ second short-handed goal of the season put them up 3-0 at 15:50 in the second period. It came on another two-on-one, when Chris Terry threaded a last-second cross-ice pass to Brett Sutter for the easy finish.

Shugg’s second goal of the night came late in the second period and gave the Checkers a 4-0 lead. It also gave him 21 points (11g, 10a) this season, tying his total from all of last season.

The Checkers penalty killers shut down the Barons on all seven of their chances with the man-advantage.

With the win, Charlotte improved to 5-0 against the Barons – who it will face again on Friday.  The Checkers can now credit Oklahoma City for 25-percent of their total wins this season.

“I think it’s just two clubs battling hard and we’ve just had more bounces go our way then they have,” said Shugg. “They’ll be a different hockey club (Friday) and we just have to come back with the great pace we had tonight.”

For Muse, who went undrafted out of Boston College – despite leading the Eagles to two NCAA Division I National Championships – it’s been a good run, but there’s still more work to do.

“Obviously, you want to play at the highest level and I’m still not there right now,” he said. “I know I can improve on parts of my game and that’s what I’m working on in practice everyday. At the same time, it feels good to be back here and I know there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Game 40 preview: Oklahoma City Barons at Charlotte Checkers

Good morning, the Oklahoma City Barons are in town for a matchup at Time Warner Cable Arena tonight. The game will be the first for the Checkers since Saturday afternoon's 4-3 shootout win over the Norfolk Admirals, in which they recorded a season-high 52 shots on goal.

Charlotte, who has won seven of its last 10 to even its record at .500 on the season, has won all four of its games this season against the Barons and currently sits one point ahead of Oklahoma City in the Western Conference standings.

Puck Drop: 7 p.m. ET

TV/Radio info: Video AHL Live / Audio 730 AM Charlotte

Records: Checkers 19-19-1, Barons 16-20-6

Projected Checkers lineup: 

Chris Terry-Brett Sutter-Zach Boychuk
Greg Nemisz-Brody Sutter-Aaron Palushaj
Philippe Cornet-Victor Rask-Justin Shugg
Matt Marquardt-A.J. Jenks-Matthew Pistilli

Michal Jordan-Danny Biega
Rasmus Rissanen-Mark Flood
Keegan Lowe-Matt Corrente

John Muse
Mike Murphy

Healthy scratch: Beau Schmitz

Injured: Brendan Woods (out since Jan. 17 with lower body injury), Sean Dolan (out since Dec. 1 with an upper body injury), Nicolas Blanchard (Out since Jan. 17 with upper body injury), Jared Staal (out since Jan. 3 with unspecified injury).

* All four players participated in the non-contact portion of Wednesday's practice.

StorylinesSaturday’s shootout win over Norfolk evened the Checkers record at .500 on the season for the first time since Nov. 7 when they were 5-5-1. … The Barons have allowed the most shots against per game in the AHL this season, with opponents averaging 33.41 per game. Charlotte is coming off a season-high 52-shot effort against Norfolk on Saturday. ... Oklahoma City has also allowed the most goals in the Western Conference this season (139). ... Barons second-year defenseman Taylor Fedun is 12th among AHL blue-liners in points this season with 22 (6g, 16a). He is currently on a three-game points streak (1g, 3a). ... Thursday's game will be the fifth of 12 matchups with Oklahoma City this season for the Checkers. 

Palushaj on fire: Charlotte forward Aaron Palushaj has recorded points in 14 of his last 16 games (8g, 14a) and jumped up to 10th in the AHL in scoring with 36 points (14g, 22a). He is currently on a five-game point streak (5g, 3a). 

Checkers team writer, Paul Branecky, recently wrote a nice feature on the idiosyncrasies of Palushaj's pre-game routine. 

Muse getting the job done: Checkers goalie John Muse has won his last three starts and 10 of his last 12 overall. He's not flashy, but he's become extremely reliable and solidified a position that was a revolving door for Charlotte earlier this season (IE: the Rick DiPietro experiment). Muse's record stands at 14-8-0, while the seven other goalies to start a game this season for Charlotte are a combined 5-11-1.

Western Conference standings update: 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Lowe helps Checkers fight back to .500

Keegan Lowe spent Saturday watching the Checkers win from the stands.

After finding himself a healthy scratch for the first time in his professional career, the 20-year-old defenseman arrived at the Time Warner Cable Arena ice on Sunday determined to make his presence felt.

The Checkers came out of the gate flat against the Norfolk Admirals and quickly found themselves trailing 2-0, 10 minutes and 22 seconds into the first period.

Knowing the team – which was playing its third game in three days – needed a spark, Lowe took matters into his own hands and challenged Norfolk center Joseph Cramarossa to a fight.

The two went punch-for-punch for about 30 seconds, before Lowe, who stands 6-foot-2, 195-pounds, sent his opponent crashing to the ice with one last right.

From that point on, Charlotte outscored the Admirals 3-1 on their way to a 4-3 shootout victory in front of a home crowd of 6,784.

“We weren’t playing with much emotion (early on) and then Keegan took it upon himself to give the team a spark,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels. “He was upset that he didn’t play yesterday, and he came out and played with an edge and was a big part of the win tonight.”

The Checkers put a season-high 53 shots on Norfolk goalie Brad Thiessen, who turned away 49 despite Sunday being the 2011 AHL goaltender of the year's first game action in over a month. 

"Thiessen's a good goalie," said Checkers netminder John Muse, who finished the game with 36 saves. "I’ve played against him since we were both in college and he’s always been real tough to beat."

Aaron Palushaj got the Checkers started on the comeback trail a couple minutes after Lowe's fight, when he sent a wrist shot past Thiessen with three seconds remaining on a Charlotte power play.

In the second, Mark Flood’s ninth goal of the season – which also came with the Checkers on a man advantage – evened the game at 2-2.

After the Admirals pulled ahead with a power play goal of their own early in the third, the Checkers began to dominate play. 

It began to feel like it was just a matter of time before the Checkers would tie the game.  

And with 5:13 to play, the newly acquired Greg Nemisz did just that, batting the puck into the back on the Norfolk net on his third swipe.

"We had a really good third period and it felt like we were building the whole time," said Nemisz. "Their goalie made a couple big saves, but we just stuck with it."

The goal was Nemisz’ first as a Checker. He now has five points (1g, 4a) in four games for Charlotte.

“He has very quietly been a real solid player for us in all situations,” said Daniels of  Nemisz who was drafted 25th overall in 2008. “Obviously, he’s had more of a defensive role with us, but he’s a guy I wouldn’t hesitate to put up on the power play to create some offense.

“He’s a guy with a track record of a lot of points as a junior,” continued Daniels. “It hasn’t happened in pro yet, but he’s still a young guy and I think the change has been good for him.”

By the end of the third period, Charlotte had recorded a season-high 23 shots, while the Admirals had managed just eight in the frame. 

After a scoreless overtime period, the game went to a shootout. 

Having gone to a shootout just once before this season, the Checkers managed to look like seasoned veterans when Matthew Pistilli, Aaron Palushaj, and Chris Terry all connected on Charlotte's first three attempts on the way to a 3-2 win.

"It’s been awhile, but we work on (shootouts) in practice and we’re always doing them," said Muse, who was in net for the third game in a row after entering Friday night's loss in relief of Mike Murphy. "It’s nothing new."

After opening their three games in three days stretch with a 7-1 loss to the Texas Stars, the Checkers have now won two in a row and are back to .500 on the season (19-19-1) for the first time since Nov. 7.

“That was a good bounce back after a tough night (on Friday),” said Daniels. “It was one game. We didn’t want to dwell on it. We wanted to move on. We talked about the good one last night (a 6-1 win over Texas), and (Sunday) was about getting back to .500 and moving on from there.”