Two weeks ago the Checkers were playing their best hockey of the season. After a dreadful month of November (2-9-0; 4 points), Charlotte had climbed back into the playoff race -- reaching as high as seventh place in the Western Conference -- by winning eight of its previous 10 games.
A 9-3 win over the Oklahoma City Barons on Jan. 24 that featured six fights and a franchise-record five power-play goals marked the high-point of the season. Unfortunately for the Checkers, it also marked an end to their hot streak.
Since the win over the Barons, the Checkers have gone 1-3-1 in their last five games. With Cam Ward joining the team for a two-game conditioning stint, Charlotte split a pair of games in Lake Erie and then went on to be swept in a two-game series by the Abbotsford Heat.
A trip back to Time Warner Cable Arena to, again, host Oklahoma City was supposed to allow Charlotte to get back on track, but the Barons had other ideas, winning the first matchup on Friday, 8-5, and the second, 4-3, in overtime on Sunday afternoon.
John Muse (16-10-1, 2.71 gaa, .913 save percentage) has been pulled from the net in each of his last two starts and was on the bench in Sunday's loss with Mike Murphy (3-7-0, 3.86 gaa, .883 save percentage) getting the nod in net.
The Checkers (22-23-2), who now sit six points out of the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference, will be back in action on Friday where they'll host the Heat at PNC Arena in Raleigh.
"We're tired, but we'll use the break to regroup," said Checkers second-line center Brody Sutter. "We need to be a lot better as a team. Obviously, everyone knows what the standings are like right now. We need to go on a big run. We'll use this time to get our legs back and make sure that we're ready to go in Raleigh."
Peculiar pre-game routines aside, Palushaj has had an excellent season for the Checkers and has twice earned one-game promotions to play with the Hurricanes. He leads the team in points (42) and assists (25), while ranking second in goals with 17. The knock you'll hear from scouts on Palushaj is that he can try to get too fine and overpass at times. Scouts would also like to see his on-ice vision improve. As the season has gone on, the 44th overall pick in 2008 (20 behind his roommate Boychuk), has only gotten stronger, through the first two months Palushaj had six goals and eight assists. In the past two, he's had 11 and 17.
It feels like the 24-year-old has been a bit overlooked at times this season. Terry's defense has continued to improve to the point where he's become a regular on the PK. In Sunday's game, Checkers coach Jeff Daniels dropped him off the top line for the first time this season. It's been 12 games since Terry last scored, his longest drought of the season.
Sutter plays with a ton of energy. He's great on the forecheck, but likely lacks the scoring touch required to play on a top line in the NHL. The 26-year-old has five goals and 19 assists this season and is currently on a three-game point-streak (1g, 4a).
The same scout that said Rask has faded this season, mentioned that he'd like to see the 20-year-old get some time back on the top line. "I don't feel like he's in a position to succeed on the third line," he added.
Charlotte coach Jeff Daniels on Murphy following Sunday's game: "He's getting his feet wet. He gets in trouble when he tries to do too much. He's got to simplify his game. You like that he wants the puck and to be a difference maker, but sometimes less is more."