Saturday, January 17, 2015

Checkers resurrect power play in 4-1 win over Marlies

As Chad LaRose tumbled to the ice behind the Toronto Marlies’ net and the arm of the on-ice official went up, a Charlotte Checkers fan let out an audible groan.

“It’s a bad joke,” the fan said. “Our guy gets tripped and the referee goes and punishes the Checkers by putting them on the power play!”

That’s how bad Charlotte has been with a man advantage this season.

It entered Friday night just 1-for-41 (2.4 percent) over its last 11 games and ranked dead last in the American Hockey League in power-play scoring, with a season-long percentage of 8.3.

(The lowest recorded power-play percentage for a season in AHL history is 10.4, set by the Rochester Americans in 2001-02.)

The ensuing power play started out the same as so many this season, with the Checkers struggling to carry the puck into the offensive end, but then something unusual happened.

With Justin Shugg (1G, 1A) running point, the puck zipped from Checker to Checker, eventually going from the tape of Danny Biega’s stick to a waiting Trevor Carrick, whose slap shot was redirected in at the last possible moment by Ben Holmstrom with a full 23 seconds still remaining on the power play.

The special-teams goal was the first of two in the game for the Checkers, who defeated the Marlies, 4-1, in front of a sold-out crowd of 8,462 at Time Warner Cable Arena on Friday.

“It got to the point where we were looking to do anything,” Checkers coach Jeff Daniels said when asked about shifting Shugg to the point on the power play. “Our power play has struggled all year and (Shugg) is a guy that’s capable of making a play.

“He’s a threat to shoot, but he can also make a play and I talked to him about it and at that point we had nothing to lose,” Daniels continued. “Tonight, it looked good.” 

It was the first time all season the Checkers (15-20-4-1) recorded more than a single power-play goal in a game and their first power-play goal on home ice since most of Charlotte was still Christmas shopping (Dec. 19).

LaRose would add the eventual game-winner during the Checkers’ next power play, thanks to an intentionally wide shot by Shugg that made its way to the assistant captain’s stick before Toronto goalie Christopher Gibson (18 saves) could react.

The win – which was made less stressful by a late goal in the third period by Shugg and an empty netter by Zach Boychuk (1G, 2A) – was the first ever against the Marlies franchise for the Checkers (1-5-0-0 all time) and avenged a 4-1 loss to Toronto (17-16-6-0) on Thursday.

Charlotte finished the night 2-for-3 with a man advantage, but their third attempt was cut short when LaRose was called for goaltender interference 10 seconds in.

They will now enjoy a four-day break before heading to Norfolk to take on the Admirals.

“It’s (frustrating),” Shugg said. “You watch teams score a couple power-play goals against us and our power play just wasn’t clicking there for about a month or two. Hopefully, we can keep this going and don’t jinx it. Special teams can win you games.”