Hey Checkers fans, TJ Chillot here with another edition of In The Trapezoid with TJ. We’re on the back-half of a long home stand with the Hershey Bears preparing to trek into the Queen City, and I’ve got some thoughts about the Checkers’ recent stretch. Let’s dive in!
Power Play Was Cookin'It was good to see the Checkers power play show signs of life after the Cleveland Monsters and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins games. Charlotte has now gone 3-for-14 in their last three games played, compared to the four games prior where they went 0-for-14. Not to mention, the Penguins are a top-5 team in penalty killing percentage so far this year, with them entering one of the games against the Checkers as the top team in the league.
Darth WaeberThe Checkers/Panthers organization has put an emphasis over the last few years on carrying a third goaltender - whether it was the trio of Daccord/Gibson/Bibeau in 2021-22, Lyon/Guzda/Berube last season, or Knight/Guzda/Waeber this year. I think this is the most well-rounded trio of the groups mentioned, and a lot of it has to do with Ludovic Waeber. The veteran netminder has adjusted extremely well to the North American style of play, and has already notched his first shutout of the season. It was five games into the season when he saw his first action, but due to some injuries, he’s now played in seven games with a 4-2-0 record and boasts a team-best goals-against-average (2.23) and save percentage (.916) for goalies with more than two games played. Waeber also turned aside 18 of 19 in a relief appearance last weekend and proved to be a calming force for the Checkers, who attempted a late comeback against the Pens.
First Goals Of The SeasonThree players netted their first goals of the season this past weekend, including Alexander True, Justin Sourdif, and Santtu Kinunnen. Now, that’s not saying these guys have been invisible, because that’s just not the case. Sourdif is averaging nearly a point-per-game since being returned from the Florida Panthers, Kinnunen is second on the team in points, and True has been valuable with five points in 17 games. So while those three had done most of their previous damage via the helper, it was good to see them get on the scoresheet in the goal column. In the case of Sourdif, he scored his first and second goals of the season in the same game, while Kinnunen is currently riding a two-game goal streak after notching a tally in each game against the Penguins this past week.
Another Landmark For The CapZac Dalpe recorded his 400th professional point on Nov. 22, an assist that fittingly came against one of his former teams, the Cleveland Monsters. The following night, Dalpe notched his 401st pro point, a goal that pulled him to within six of the Checkers all-time career goal mark. There’s a lot of hockey remaining, a lot of spring left in the step of the vet, and I have a feeling Dalpe breaking records or hitting milestones is going to be a regular feature on this blog.
Rivalry RenewedUp next for Charlotte is two games at home against the defending Calder Cup Champions, the Hershey Bears. The last time these two teams met, it was an elimination game for the Checkers, who were bounced out of the postseason in unforgiving fashion after getting tripled up by Hershey, 6-2.
The Bears have seen a lot of roster turnover during the off-season, losing the likes of Sam Anas, Sonny Milano, Zach Fucale, and Connor McMichael. That said, they might have improved despite the losses. At the time of the writing of this article, Hershey sits in first place in the Atlantic Division with no signs of slowing down. Hunter Shepard is blooming into the professional goaltender that most expected the former two-time NCAA National Champion to become, and veterans like Mike Sgarbossa are leading the team in the right direction. The Checkers will be up to the task, however, and I expect these two teams to pick up right where they left off in May.