Friday, February 7, 2014

Checkers score five but fall

After a tough road trip that saw the Checkers go 1-3-0, 0-for-17 on the power play and drop back to .500 on the season, Charlotte fans were happy to welcome the Oklahoma City Barons to town on Friday.

Who better to set the Checkers back on track than the Barons, right? Charlotte entered the night 6-0-0 against their West Division foe and fresh off a 9-3 win against them two weeks ago that saw the team score a franchise-record five power play goals.

The Barons, who entered on a three-game winning streak since their loss at Charlotte, had a different script in mind and, instead, exacted some seemingly overdue revenge in an 8-5 win in Charlotte’s annual Pink in the Rink game at Time Warner Cable Arena in front of a sold-out crowd of 8,189.

“I’m sure they were upset about what happened the last time they were in here,” said Checkers defenseman Mark Flood. “We beat them pretty bad. We knew they were going to come back and have a strong game today.”

John Muse, who allowed four goals in 13 minutes of play his last time out, was pulled from net for his second start in a row, after allowing four third-period goals (the last of which completed Roman Horak’s hat trick), that took the game from tied 3-3 and turned it into a laugher for Oklahoma City.

The Checkers answered with two goals of their own late by Michael Jordan and Flood, but the damage had already been done.

“We just stopped skating,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels, whose team didn’t arrive back in Charlotte until late Thursday night. “For whatever reason we weren’t able to move our legs and were just standing still and they had three-four guys attacking and because of that, we couldn’t match their speed tonight.

“We’ve had a tough week,” continued Daniels. “It’s been a long week, but we knew that was the schedule and that we had to find a way to win tonight and we didn’t.”

The loss snapped a four-game home winning streak for the Checkers and was their third in a row overall -- their longest such stretch since dropping seven straight in November.

The Barons kicked off the scoring five minutes and 44 seconds into the first period, when a miscommunication between Keegan Lowe and Flood – who was in the process of a line change – led to a breakaway for Matthew Ford.

Some hustle and a bit of luck allowed Aaron Palushaj to tie the game at 1-1 just over five and a half minutes later.

Palushaj found himself in a race to the puck with Oklahoma City goaltender Richard Bachman (37 saves) near the right faceoff dot. Bachman got to the puck first, but Palushaj was able to tip away his clear attempt and send a tight-angled shot towards the net.

The puck clanked off the post and back into play just in time to bounce off Barons defenseman Martin Gernat and back into the net.

The unassisted goal was Palushaj’s 17th of the season and his seventh in the Checkers last 10 games.

With the first period winding down, Brody Sutter snapped a 23-game scoring drought with his fourth goal of the season, batting home the rebound from a Ryan Murphy shot.

Even if you weren’t aware of Sutter’s drought, you could tell based on his celebration, as he raised his arms to the sky and mimed the motion of removing a monkey from his back.

Following an emotional intermission, where the Checkers entire team remained on the ice to honor the late Jen Pagani and her family (as part of the team’s Pink in the Rink event), Charlotte pulled ahead by two on a Brett Sutter goal.

Again, the goal came under somewhat fluky circumstances, as Sutter – who was situated behind the Barons net – appeared to be trying to send a centering pass that, instead, caught a skate and redirected past Bachman.

The goal marked the first time both Sutters have scored in the same game.

The Barons recovered to score the period’s next two goals and even things at 3-3 entering the third thanks to strikes from David Musil and Roman Horak, with the latter redirecting an Anton Lander slapper.

Unfortunately for the Checkers, the Barons were just getting started. Oklahoma City eventually stretched its unanswered goals streak to six, before Jordan and Flood got into the scorer’s book.

With Mike Murphy off for an extra attacker, the Barons added an empty netter to seal the win.

The two teams will go back at it on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at Time Warner Cable Arena

“We’re just not playing well right now,” said Daniels. “That’s five games in a row that we haven’t been sharp. Again, we’re not in a position to lose any more really. If you want to get into the playoffs, you can’t lose two-three in a row.”