The AHL season is in full swing. Teams are beginning to separate from the pack, the scoring leaders are beginning to emerge, and a very lose playoff picture is beginning to form. Leading their division, conference, and the league, the Charlotte Checkers hold the AHL’s top spot.
Heading into the holiday break, the Checkers sit atop the standings with a 18-9-3 record and a league-leading 39 points. The power behind this year’s surge has been the offense. The Checkers have scored a total of 96 goals for the season, trailing only the Syracuse Crunch, who have 98 goals for. Charlotte also has the 5th best powerplay in the AHL at 19.8%, and has scored 25 of their 96 goals on the man advantage. The Checkers started the season red-hot, getting points in 7 of their first 8 games. Since November, they have cooled a touch, going 12-7-2, but finished the most recent stint of games on a 5-0-1 tear.
Another factor for Charlotte this season has been a true goaltender tandem that has kept teams guessing. The Checkers have two viable goalies that split time almost equally in Justin Peters and journeyman Dan Ellis. Peters, who has seen some time in the NHL behind Hurricanes’ goalie Cam Ward, has started 39 games for Charlotte and has compiled an 11-4-1 record. His 11 wins are tied for 3rd in the AHL and he has a modest .914 save percentage. Dan Ellis, who has logged 36 games, has a 7-5-2 record with a .920 save percentage. Both goaltenders have recorded two shutouts each. The penalty kill for Charlotte has also been very strong; their 86.6% is the 4th best penalty kill percentage in the league.
Zach Boychuk leads the team with 28 points (14-14), and is tied with Drayson Bowman with 14 goals. Hurricanes-turned-Checkers defenseman Justin Faulk is second on the team with 22 points, and has logged serious minutes during both 5 on 5 and PP/PK sequences. Faulk has been a great addition to the Checkers’ blue line, and with the uncertainty surrounding the NHL, it looks likes Faulk may be playing in Charlotte for the remainder of the season.
The AHL is extremely competitive this season, and the Checkers have been atop the leaderboard for most of it. With only 9 points separating the top 8 teams in the Western Conference, the Checkers will have to keep scoring at an alarming rate, and tighten up on defense in order to be successful into March and April. There is a ton of hockey left to be played, but if the beginning of the season is any indication of things to come, the Checkers are serious contenders for the Calder Cup.