Penguins Out To Avenge Narrow Losses To Checkers
WILKES-BARRE — The Charlotte Checkers might be atop the AHL entering this weekend, but they aren’t invincible.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins played them to a pair of one-goal losses at Mohegan Sun Arena back in November. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton even took a 4-1 lead in the second contest before the Checkers put together a furious rally and won in overtime.
So, if the Penguins took anything from those games, it’s the importance of playing as close to a full 60 minutes as possible against their Atlantic Division foe. They’ll have two more chances to do so this weekend at Bojangles’ Coliseum and snap their slide against the league’s best.
“Both games, we were definitely in it,” forward Sam Lafferty said Monday at the Toyota SportsPlex. “I thought we played pretty hard, but just the consistency, that’s the biggest thing for us.
“It’s definitely a good measuring-stick game for us. I think we’ve shown that when we play our style of hockey consistently, that we’re a pretty tough team to play.”
The Checkers have owned the head-to-head series since the start of last season, winning five of the last six regular-season matchups and notably sweeping the Penguins out of the playoffs in April.
However, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has a lot to play for this weekend.
It sits fourth in the Atlantic with 41 points, but the division is an absolute logjam with teams from third through seventh place within six points of one another. Getting a win or two against the Checkers could go a long way toward helping the team grab a playoff spot by season’s end.
Charlotte is a balanced group that excels at controlling the pace of play, so Wilkes-Barre/Scranton knows it can’t afford to be the more passive team.
“They thrive on puck possession, so we want to dictate that,” Lafferty said. “We want to have the puck and be the aggressors.”
Otherwise, the Penguins have had the added benefit of a full week to prepare, getting two practices in before their travel day on Wednesday. The hope is that will help eradicate some of the mental errors that crept into their performance in Saturday’s 5-3 loss to Milwaukee.
“We can’t make any mistakes,” head coach Clark Donatelli said. “Especially down there (in Charlotte), they’re a really good club. ... We just have to stick to our game plan and not get frustrated and stick with the process.”
Rookie forward Sam Miletic and defenseman Zach Trotman have a chance of returning to the lineup this weekend.
Miletic and Trotman skated in regular contact sweaters during practice, and Donatelli said Monday both were in the “final stages” of their recovery. Trotman hasn’t played since Nov. 4, and Miletic has been sidelined since Nov. 30.
Defenseman Chris Summers was also in a regular sweater, but Donatelli said he’ll be out against Charlotte.
Ben Sexton skated before practice Monday and was classified as day to day. He took a pair of hard checks during the second period of Saturday’s game against Milwaukee.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-821-2089; @CVPiccotti on Twitter
SCOUTING CHARLOTTE: Jan. 11-12
When: 7 p.m. tonight and 6 p.m. Saturday at Bojangles’ Coliseum
Season series: Charlotte won the previous two matchups between the teams at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Online: Both games will be streamed on AHLTV and at wilknews.radio.com. Tonight’s contest will also be free through Facebook Watch as the selected Game of the Week.
About the Checkers: Charlotte is the league’s best team at 27-8-3-0 and has a comfortable nine-point lead in the Atlantic Division. The Checkers have plenty of scoring depth, with six players having tallied 11 or more goals. Andrew Poturalski is among the league’s point leaders with 38 (15G-23A) and had a goal and two assists against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in November. Charlotte is also underrated defensively, having allowed the fewest goals among Atlantic teams. Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic leads the league with 17 wins.