Checkers: Scouting the Enemy

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)
Oh. Hey Charlotte. It’s been awhile. Hi. (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

Yesterday in Chatterbox I made mention of the Charlotte Checkers dipping as opposed to the consistency of the Milwaukee Admirals. The Checkers were on an astonishingly good run from December 9th to January 23rd where they went 14-1-1-2 (31 points, 0.861 points percentage) over the course of 18 games. That’s lethal. But it isn’t the team that is rolling into Milwaukee tonight.

The Checkers have a record of 25-19-3-2 (55 points). Their 0.561 points percentage sees them in fifth place of the Central Division and seventh in the Western Conference standings. Since their win on January 23rd the Checkers have gone a dead cold 0-8-1-0 (1 point, 0.111 points percentage) over a span of 9 games. That includes four games against lower tier opposition such as the Iowa Wild and San Antonio Rampage. It’s bizarre but just another friendly reminder to not take the Admirals consistency for granted.

So what is the real issue that has plagued the Checkers lately? My eyes wander off to the net where inconsistency has been perhaps the biggest issue. In this winless streak for the Checkers their goaltending duo of Daniel Altshuller and Drew MacIntyre have stopped 231/263 of shots on goal for a 0.878 combined save percentage. In addition, the Checkers have pulled their starting goaltender three times over this span. How many times have the Admirals pull their starting goaltender this entire season? Not even once.

I feel where things all fell apart comes on the shoulders of the first-year pro, Altshuller. The 21-year old has already run the gauntlet of starting in the ECHL, blew up his name at the AHL level during that incredibly successful stretch for the Checkers, and had a quick cup of coffee getting an NHL recall -but not seeing action- with the Carolina Hurricanes.

When Altshuller arrived to the Checkers he started 11 games, won 9 games, had a 1.70 goals against average, 0.941 save percentage, and a shutout. No wonder the Checkers were so hot before, right? But what happens when that young netminder starts to hit a wall? He scrambles. What happens when a goaltender scrambles? Unless you’re name is Dominik Hasek usually nothing ever good. And that’s what has been going on.

The Checkers have continued to lean on a mightily struggling Altshuller hoping to see him regain his form when he hit the AHL scene. That hasn’t been working out for anyone. Since his last win he has lost seven-straight starts in net and has a 4.87 goals against average and 0.838 save percentage over his last eight games in net. Long story short, this whole “let the kid play through it” mentality isn’t working and it’s costing them games.

In front of their goaltenders the Checkers do offer plenty of attacking options and match-up nicely with the Admirals. The Checkers have nine players with 20+ points of offense including two at the 30+ point mark: Derek Ryan with 37 points (14 goals, 23 assists) and Trevor Carrick with 30 points (9 goals, 21 assists). Compare that to the Admirals who have eight players at the 20+ points mark and only one player at the 30+ points plateau: Frédérick Gaudreau with 31 points (12 goals, 19 assists).

If the Admirals last two games are anything to go by then they should be up to the task handling the offense of the Checkers. What will be a question mark is how the Checkers defensive game will play out and if they’ll be looking to avoid getting into a track meet with the speed of the Admirals. This game could be a goal fest for the Admirals if the Checkers aren’t careful but, just as easily, it could be a goal fest for everyone if the Admirals get trigger happy in a up-tempo paced game where their defensemen will look to hop up into the rush. As long as the Admirals stay smart, like they were against Iowa, the should avoid major mistakes and allow themselves the opportunities the Checkers will present them – because those chances will and should be presented tonight with a team spiraling out of control like the Checkers are right now.

UPDATE: As a means of hilarity the Carolina Hurricanes decided to negate my pre-game scout and recall goaltender Daniel Altshuller from the Charlotte Checkers. This meant the Checkers recalling Anthony Peters from their ECHL affiliate the Florida Everblades. And, no doubt, this should mean Drew MacIntyre starts in net tonight for the Checkers.

Expectations for tonight’s game? Will the Milwaukee Admirals find themselves in yet another defensive game?

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