The Checkers exploded offensively in their lone win this season, pumping in eight goals against the Wild, but have totaled just five goals over their three losses, including a one-goal showing the next night in Iowa.
So the question is, how does the team create that consistency?
“It’s a good question,” said head coach Ulf Samuelsson. “First of all, we’re going to need four lines out there. Some nights the top lines are going to be shut down so we need all four lines contributing. The offense needs to come from many different sources.”
Getting that distribution of scoring will be a big step for the Checkers to take, as seven of their 13 goals this season have come off the sticks of rookie Andrew Poturalski and captain Derek Ryan.
That raises the next question: what does the team need to do to produce that secondary scoring?
According to forward Connor Brickley, there can be a blueprint to scoring in the AHL. The key is adjusting your play.
“You just have to keep doing the little things,” said Brickley. “In this league, you’re going to score goals by going to the net. Maybe in other leagues you can be a bit more pretty, but the teams that put up consistent goals are the ones that go to the net and get rebounds, tips and greasy goals like that.”
Heading into the weekend looking to turn things around after this slow start, it’s clear that the biggest answer to those lingering questions will be putting the puck in the net.
“Some games when a team decides to play as tight as [Iowa] did [last Friday], you have to rely on your specialty teams and play a patient game,” said Samuelsson. “But we always need to be thinking about offense. Even when the other team has the puck, we need to be thinking about how to get it back.”
Some other news and notes from this week:
SCOUTING THE GRIFFINSThe Checkers will be in for a challenge this weekend as the Grand Rapids Griffins come to town.
The perennial Western Conference power is off to another hot start, coming out of the gates with a 4-1-0 record. Though there isn’t a ton of game tape to draw from this early on in the season, the coaching staff has a grasp on what they’ll be facing.
“We saw them up in Traverse City and we watched their last two games and they’re off to a good start, they’re playing well,” said Samuelsson. “It’s a team that’s going to forecheck hard when they have the opportunity and it looks like they play good defensively when they don’t have the puck. It’ll be a good challenge for us. We worked on a couple specific things in practice this week so hopefully we’ll be ready for a good weekend.”
The Griffins boast no shortage of star power, headlined by the AHL’s goal leader, Anthony Mantha. The third-year pro combines with a mix of hotshot prospects like Tyler Bertuzzi and established AHL scorers like Eric Tangradi to give Grand Rapids a dynamic attack up front.
“They have some high skill guys who have scored on every level,” said rookie blue liner Roland McKeown. “It will be important to be focused and ready to shut those big guns down.”
The good news for the Checkers is that, come Friday, they’ll have had a week in their own building to regroup and devise a game plan to knock off the Griffins and get back in the win column.
“We need to set the pace early,” said Brickley. “You need to have your four lines rolling so you can come at them in waves. Skill teams try to slow things down and fuel off of transition plays, so we’re going to have to limit our turnovers in the neutral zone. We had a little bit of trouble with that over the weekend, but things are starting to settle down for everyone. We’re going to limit the turnovers, put pucks in the offensive zone and grind it out.”
MCKEOWN FITTING INA bright spot over the season-opening road trip has been the play of McKeown.
After a short four-game stint two seasons ago, McKeown has kicked off his rookie year with some solid play along the blue line for the Checkers while navigating the transition to the pro game.
“It’s an adjustment for sure, but I wouldn’t say the game is incredibly faster, it’s just more organized,” said McKeown. “Guys are in the right position, they move the puck up better and they’re positionally sound. When breakdowns do happen, that’s when the goals happen because guys don’t miss on chances in this league.”
Coming off a stellar OHL career with Kingston, one that saw him lead team defenseman in scoring for three of his four seasons, McKeown fits nicely into a young Charlotte defensive corps that is high on talent.
“It’s a young, smooth skating group,” said McKeown of his fellow defensemen. “We move the puck well back there. I think we’re coming together as a group, guys are starting to mesh, it’s all starting to come together.”
That’s the key nowadays, defensemen have to be able to skate and they have to be able to move the puck up to the skilled forwards
That skill set on the blue line will be called upon this season, as Samuelsson mentioned the need for the defensemen to be “involved and firing from the back end” as a means to getting more offensive consistency.
With McKeown helping lead the charge of new blood, it looks like the Checkers’ blue line is up to the challenge.
“That’s the key nowadays,” said McKeown. “Defensemen have to be able to skate and they have to be able to move the puck up to the skilled forwards.”
COMING HOMEFriday’s home opener, which you can still get tickets for here, is obviously an exciting time for fans who have been waiting all offseason to get back to the friendly confines of Bojangles’ Coliseum. But it’s not just the fans who are looking forward to it.
“It’s huge,” said Brickley. “Especially with it being the first game at home, it’s fun to show the fan base the new team and the new look and what to expect this season. Hopefully we come out strong.”
Performance-wise, playing on their home ice could give the Checkers the boost they need to get back on track.
“It’s going to be nice,” said McKeown. “To get in front of your fans on your ice, you get this sense of familiarity, it’s great. And sometimes when you feel more comfortable the confidence comes with that. When you’re at home everything feels a bit better.”