(Photo: Chris Jerina/ AHL in Photos)
The Chicago Wolves, mostly high-flying of late, produced their weakest effort of the season Sunday in North Carolina, going down to the home-town Checkers 4-1.
The Checkers are far and away the best team in the AHL right now, and play the game the way the Wolves would like to play, lots of speed and skill, led by the likes of Brett Sutter, Drayson Bowman and Justin Faulk. The big club in Raleigh must be pleased with what they are seeing from their kids so far this season.
Comments, a couple videos and some stats after the jump.
– The Wolves got crushed in the special teams battle, generating no chances on their own powerplays while yielding nine to the Checkers on their powerplays. Overall the Checkers won the chance count 21-14.
– Guillaume Desbiens had a hard time against the best team in the AHL. He took a second period penalty as far as you can get from your own net. Earlier, he was chiefly to blame on Drayson Bowman’s game-opening goal. He was beaten along the boards, ended up chasing his man and hooked him to the ice. The Checkers kept possession, got the extra attacker on and Bowman did his thing for the eighth game in a row.
– Jordan Schroeder and Bill Sweatt have been back together for most of the season but have had a variety of wingers. Andrew Gordon took a turn with them on Sunday and the trio was far and away Chicago’s best line. Sweatt has really been a threat of late; his speed has always been evident but it’s clear he worked hard this offseason on his strength. He was winning puck battles along the boards all game.
– Schroeder had five shots on Sunday, two of which were scoring chances.
– Tim Miller got a pair of chances in the game, while skating on the fourth line with Desbiens and Alex Mallet. He’s a guy who’s getting burned by the lockout, last year he played a much bigger role on the team, seeing plenty of third and even second line time. No fighting for minutes last year!
-The second period saw an intriguing adaptation to the Wolves’ attacking strategy. Clearly Scott Arniel thought back to his playing days – his NHL 94 playing days – and told his players to work on the pass-out-from-the-corner-for-a-one-timer-in-the-slot strategy.
A lot of this, in other words:
– Zack Kassian got to play with Nathan Longpre and Steve Pinizotto, a grouping that seems to be working and might even happen in the NHL.
– The rest of the lineup was pretty mediocre, including the Ebbett-Sterling-Davies ‘Mighty Mouse’-themed line, even if they did score a goal off a lucky bounce.
– That wasn’t the only weird bounce in the game; there were plenty. This was actually Charlotte’s home opener and for reasons that aren’t exactly clear, the Democratic National Convention, held the first week of September, was supposedly the reason the Checkers spent the first month of the season on the road. Yes, all of October.
– Also the in-game production from the Checkers operations staff deserves a shout-out. The AHL Live feed is generally the in-building feed, as shown on the arena’s big screen. This means I got to witness all of the Checkers’ fantastic pop culture references; clips from Arrested Development, the Bruce Dickinson ‘more cowbell’ SNL sketch and Magruber, among others. Coupled with their hilarious campaign to get the fans dancing, it made watching a jumbo-tron broadcast pretty fun.