The Charlotte Checkers, second in the Western Conference standings, faced off against the Oklahoma City Barons on Sunday afternoon. The mid-section of a three-in-three for OKC saw the team play surprisingly well knowing that they didn’t arrive in Charlotte until 11:00am followed by the puck drop at 4:00pm. They’d out shoot the Checkers by fifteens shots, but eventually it was Charlotte that won out on the incredible play of Justin Peters in net. Olivier Roy wasn’t too shabby himself, but a late game “stinker” of a goal eventually led to a 3-2 victory by the Checkers.
The first period was surprisingly quick for OKC. Just as they had the night before in Cedar Park, the team really moved the puck well, and that gives any team the edge. But from the first shot to the final horn, it was apparent that Charlotte goaltender, Justin Peters, was going to be on point. Ten shots, all turned aside by Peters, forced Oklahoma City to get a little “clutchy and grabby”. Taylor Fedun was called for a hooking penalty with seven minutes left, and the Checkers took their chance perfectly and beat Olivier Roy. Matt Becca, positioning himself in front of Roy, received a great pass from Luke Pither, and nailed in a power play goal for a 1-0 victory. Despite only seeing six shots, Roy would let in the lone goal of the first twenty minutes.
The second period was a scoreless affair, but it was also when Justin Peters proved he was one of the elite goaltenders in the American Hockey League. Huge attempts by the first two scoring lines for the Barons stayed out of the net, and the Checkers continued to take their chances cautiously. The period ended with a 1-0 score, and no new goals to report.
After the Barons’ second liner, Eric Hunter, scored early in the third period, Charlotte would take a commanding 3-1 lead. The Checkers first goal of the period came again on the power play, but this time from David Rutherford. The second was an even strength stinker let in by Olivier Roy at the “under five” portion of the final period. The final goal by Charlotte was scored by Justin Shugg through Roy’s five hole that was launched from the left face off dot. In the waning moments of the game, Dane Byers would punch in a goal (somehow) as both teams dog piled in Peters’ crease. But the goal came too little too late, and the Barons would lose to the Charlotte Checkers, 3-2.
Justin Peters. Wow. He’s been hovering in the top ten in goaltenders in the AHL for nearly the entire season. After Sunday afternoon’s tangle with the Barons, it’s going to be hard to beat this guy down the stretch. BUT…Cam Ward is out for 6-8 weeks, with a sprained knee situation. That means Peters is likely gone for quite a long time from the Charlotte ice. Good news for the South Division and Western Conference, bad news for the Checkers.
But things aren’t entirely muddy for the Checkers. They continue to be a team that likes to take its chances perfectly. Unlike most of the South Division that likes to pepper the net with shots, the Checkers are content to wait for the offense to come. That sounds like a terrible game plan, but it works. And thus they’ll likely power through without their star goaltender.
Yes, Roy let in a stinker of a third goal. Yes, the Barons would have scored the equalizer late had he stopped that goal. But this felt like a doomed game for Oklahoma City. The good news is that they played a very good opponent on little to no rest, and looked really good for the most part.
The second line finally did some things after being virtually absent in Texas on Saturday night. I’d love to see a game where the Cheechoo line and the Rajala line really dominate. So far, one’s on the other’s off. Surging together, they’d be dangerous. Likewise, I think C.J. Strech is a fine centerman, but I’d like to see Eric Hunter down the middle with Stretch on the wing. That might allow for more puck driving on behalf of C.J. He’s a wheeler and dealer that could give some outside speed around the boards. Just a thought.
Look for Niko Hovinen to start tonight as the Barons again play the Charlotte Checkers. Game starts at 6CST.