The skates featured a blend of battle drills, some individual focus on faceoffs, collecting rebounds and plenty of skill work.
“A lot of good stuff throughout the whole week,” said head coach Geordie Kinnear. “Good review, good week for individuals mastering their craft. A good week for us to get better.”
This past home stand was a tough one for the Checkers, as they dropped five of the six contests - capped off by a two-game sweep at the hands of Hershey over the weekend.
While that skid has put the team in a slump heading into mid-December, the team is committed to not letting a setback like that derail the greater blueprint at play. This week of practice stuck to that script.
“As a coaching staff we have a plan in place about how we want to build throughout the course of the year,” said Kinnear. “So that you’re playing at the highest level possible at the right times of the year.”
That’s not to say these skates haven’t addressed some of the more glaring areas that have arisen during the past few weeks.
“We had a couple of things this week that we wanted to make sure we got in so we could continue to build on it,” said Kinnear.
COMING TOGETHERWith that moment to catch their breath behind them, the Checkers are now heading up north. A four-game trek is on the docket for Charlotte - one that includes a stretch of three games in three cities in three nights this weekend before circling back to Lehigh Valley for one more midweek tilt.
It’s a gauntlet that certainly presents a challenge for the slumping Checkers, but it could also be an opportunity for the group to galvanize and right the ship.
“It’s an important concept to winning,” said Kinnear of his team building camaraderie. “When you go on the road you spend a little more time together. When you go through adversity you have to come together. So it’s all how you react to situations and how your mindset is. We can take another step in that direction for sure.”
In Kinnear’s eyes, coming together as a group can be more than a means of breaking out of this skid - it can be a precursor to bigger things.
“If you look, one team wins in the end - only one,” said Kinnear. “And I think if you go around the room it’s the team that cares about the guy beside them the most. But that can’t be manufactured, that has to come from within. This is a really good group, everyone is hard working and they like hanging out.”
STINGY WITH SHOTSA common thread for the Checkers over the most recent string of games has been dominance in the shot category. They have outshot their opponent in each of the last eight games and have not been outshot in a game since Oct. 25 - a 14-game run.
Recently it has been the shot suppression that has stood out, as the Checkers have held their opponents to 25, 20 and 21 shots over the last three games, respectively.
The challenge for the Checkers is turning that stat into points in the standings - those last three games have all been losses, and the Checkers have five losses in their last six games while outshooting their opponents.
“I’ve liked a lot about our game,” said Kinnear. “But I haven’t liked the results.”
The process of turning things around is just that - a process - and as the Checkers look to continue stifling opponents’ chances while avoiding the mistakes that have ended up in the back of their net, taking positive steps during this upcoming trip can go a long way towards kickstarting that.
“I’d like to play a perfect game but we’re not going to play perfect - there’s no such thing,” said Kinnear. “I always say progress over perfection, so as long as we’re progressing.”
The optimistic outlook says that if the Checkers are able to maintain their suffocating trend defensively, the results are bound to follow suit.
“You should win a lot of hockey games when you give up 12 chances or under,” said Kinnear. “And I can tell you that I don’t know too many games where we’ve been over that in the last two or three weeks.”
INJURY UPDATESBoth Matt Kiersted and Mack Guzda have been sidelined with injury since Nov. 10, but this week brought positive news for the duo.
While they haven’t quite returned to practice, Kiersted and Guzda have been hitting the ice each morning this week before the team’s skate.
“It’s a good sign,” said Kinnear. “Neither guy was skating before. Lots of positive energy for both of those two guys.”
The timeline for either player to return to action isn’t clear just yet, but Kiersted will be going on the upcoming four-game road trip. Guzda will be staying behind, but Kinnear says the netminder is heading in the right direction.
“I’ll be excited to see both of those guys in the lineup soon,” he said.