During the season, Checkers broadcaster Jason Shaya checks in each week with his 10 Thoughts - a series of observations about the team and the hockey world in general.
1. Here is a statistic about this Checkers team that is remarkable: Out of the 30 games played, 17 of them have been one-goal decisions, with the Checkers posting a 13-2-2 record in them. They are also the only team in the league to have a winning record after going into the third period while trailing.
2. Based a few different scenarios, at the conclusion of this weekend's games Charlotte could have a 12 point lead in the Atlantic over Bridgeport or be only two points ahead. I know it's difficult to place emphasis on any given set of games during the middle of the regular season, but this is an important part of the year.
3. Proposed rule change: If a team ices the puck and is forced to take a defensive zone faceoff without allowing for a line-change, should they win the draw and ice the puck again, a two-minute penalty for delay of game should be called. We've seen many back to back icings happen and it brings the game to a total stop.
4. Former head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers Dave Hakstol will have used five different goalies before his exit earlier this week. Only one of those goalies, Brain Elliott, had a save percentage above .900 and he's often injured. It's impossible to win games if your goaltending is subpar. As the saying goes: show me a good goalie and I'll show you a good coach.
5. Hurricanes defenseman Haydn Fleury works incredibly hard trying to find a regular spot on the team's blue line. After drawing back into the lineup last week against Montreal, Haydn suffered an upper body injury. Here is what I know about the kid – he's truly talented and he wants to get better every day. It's very difficult to get to a high level when you're in and out of the lineup but I do believe he will get there because coupled with his skill is a strong competitive nature.
6. Carolina’s signing of Petr Mrazek is looking more and more like one of the best acquisitions of this past offseason. Mrazek is resurrecting his career with every passing game. His first shutout against Arizona was brilliant on Sunday. Let's hope there are many more down the road.
7. Aleksi Saarela is riding a six-game point streak (2G, 4A) and has goals in back to back games. With 15 points (8g, 7a) in his last 16 games, Saarela is continuing to play the best hockey of his career. He added his second overtime game winner of the season last Sunday and he nearly had another one last night before ringing a shot in overtime off the post. His goal in the third period helped the Checkers to a big point in the standings.
8. Andrei Svechnikov has five points in the last five games for Carolina and is now beginning to show signs of being the elite power forward the Hurricanes drafted this summer. Along with his emergence comes the perhaps underappreciated work of Lucas Wallmark, who is playing among the most minutes of any forward on the team and winning draws consistently above 60% on most nights. Wallmark's line battles the opponent’s top lines every game and they have come out on the better end more often than not. Now that they are starting to add offense to the mix, you have to like the way things are trending.
9. Interviewing Checkers owner Michael Kahn this past weekend, I noticed he was wearing his SEC Championship ring from the Georgia Bulldogs previous season. Michael has been around sports teams for the better part of 30 years so I asked him what he sees in this Checkers team that stands out in comparison to years past. He mentioned chemistry, which he says is hard to define but he went into some detail. "Chemistry to me is more important than the talent level they have,” he said. “You see a lot of teams who go out and sign the high-priced free agent thinking that one player is going to change their whole fortune. It's not. It's a team sport and you have to have 20 guys on the same page for it to work. I think in today's world we try to make it about individuals but these are truly team sports. What you see in our locker room and what you see on our ice is that these guys genuinely care about each other and they're playing for each other."
10. After going a few weeks without scoring a goal, Morgan Geekie struck for goals in both games against Utica. I am sure it was a relief for the 20-year-old forward who was in and out of the lineup since mid-November. Geekie has all the tools necessary to be a complete player. The last two games will hopefully give him the confidence to find openings and put the puck on net with his very good shot.
Two huge games coming up this weekend before the Christmas break. Once the Checkers get back to business after that they will take to the road for six games in Canada. That will be one of the most difficult stretches for a team that hasn't yet had a lot of help from schedule makers. Puck drop on Friday is at 7 p.m. and the pre-game broadcast begins at 6:45.