All three contests proved to be low-scoring affairs with the Checkers managing just two goals across the nine periods despite firing 72 shots during the two losses alone.
Vellucci used Wednesday’s practice as an opportunity to build on those performances.
“We got pucks to the net and we had a lot of chances. I think in the last game we had 20 grade-A’s to their 10. What we worked on today was staying on pucks, making sure we get those second and third chances.”
That weekend’s slate continued Charlotte’s growing trend of falling into tight battles as of late, with the coaching staff using it as a barometer for the final run to the playoffs.
“We have to stay on pucks all over the ice and not give up on plays,” said Vellucci. “That’s what has to happen. That’s playoff hockey. We’ve got to get better at that.”
Not helping the Checkers’ offensive cause was the absence of Andrew Miller and Lucas Wallmark, two of the team’s top scoring threats. With the former lost to injury for a month and the latter slotted into the Hurricanes’ lineup, the Checkers are having to lean on a youth-heavy group going through the slog of a pro season for the first time.
“The playmaking is big but I think it’s the experience to be honest,” said Vellucci of what his team is missing the most without Miller and Wallmark. “We’ve got all those young forwards, they’re getting chances but they maybe put a little too much pressure on themselves. They haven’t gone through this and they want to impress and do well. So the chances are there, I just think it’s the experience. It’s a difficult league for the young guys to be consistent on offense every game. They’re worried about other things, playing well in their own end, getting pucks out. I think the experience is what we’re missing the most.”
ROAD STRUGGLESAs they prepare to hit the road for another three-in-three weekend, the Checkers are looking to reverse their fortunes away from home.
One of the strongest home teams in the league, Charlotte rolls into this weekend with a record below .500 on the road and have seen its goals for, goals against and power play averages all sag significantly away from home.
While a sizeable chunk of that can be attributed to unlucky personnel moves occurring while the team is away, the coaching staff is searching for solutions to the Checkers’ road woes.
“I think about that all the time,” said Vellucci of his team’s struggles on the road. “We’re one of the youngest teams in the league, then you go on the road and play in front of 10 or 11 thousand people, we’re playing in some big buildings against some old, experienced teams, it’s difficult. But we’re getting our chances and we’re playing extremely hard.”
GAUTHIER MAKES PROGRESSOne bright spot over the weekend was Julien Gauthier’s performance on Saturday in Bridgeport. The rookie forward lit the lamp twice in the team’s victory, bringing his season total to 11 goals.
That marked the third multi-point game of the season for Gauthier, who has seen his production come in bunches throughout his first pro campaign. The rookie’s play has become visibly stronger as he’s found success offensively, something the young forward attributes to his growing confidence.
“I think I’m getting better,” said Gauthier. “I understand the game more. I know the system way better. I’m more confident in what I do. I’m always one of the first ones on the ice and last ones off working on my game, shooting pucks, working on my dangles. It’s not going to pay off every day but when it pays off you build on that.”
At his best, Gauthier has proven to be a physical presence on the ice, using his size and skill to push plays to net and create offense. The next step is building consistency.
“He’s skating,” said Vellucci of the catalyst behind Gauthier’s strong weekend. “He’s competing and he’s getting in on the forecheck. He’s making things happen instead of just standing still and that’s making a difference. When he’s trying to make things happen and playing hard and using his speed and size, he’s a good player. When he just stands still and doesn’t move his feet, he’s not as effective.”
Recently Gauthier has been grouped on a line with fellow rookies Nicolas Roy and Janne Kuokkanen and together the trio have found their groove offensively.
“That line – Goat, Kooks and Roy – has been together for two weeks now and they were one of our best lines over the weekend,” said Vellucci. “That’s why we’re keeping them together again this coming weekend.”
“The guys I play with are really good,” said Gauthier of his linemates. “When I scored over the weekend I didn’t do too much. I just went to the front of the net and got a nice pass. I give a lot of credit to them. They work hard for me.”
With multiple high-caliber scorers out of the lineup, the Checkers will have to lean on their young talent to carry them to a postseason berth, and Gauthier is working to be a key part of that push.
“We’re doing a lot of video to improve my game,” said Gauthier. “It’s good for me. The point isn’t to be good for two months, it’s to be good for the whole year. You’ve got to be consistent with what you do.”