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.”


Anonymous said...

Muse is a great goaltender.

He very rarely gets flustered when things go wrong. But I think he wanders away from the box too frequently.