Remember the Charlotte Checkers? Yep, they are still playing hockey, though it may not feel like it lately. Saturday marks their third game of the season — the home opener against the Iowa Wild — and two weeks since they last played an AHL game. On the same day, division-rival Oklahoma City will be playing their seventh.
Some NFL teams don’t even get this much time off.
The Checkers will be fighting to stay focused, but they are hardly the only team with such a lengthy break at the start of the season. The Texas Stars have a nine-day “vacation” while the Worcester Sharks have only played a single game.
While there isn’t really a “good” time for such a break, Charlotte’s came at as inopportune a time as there is. The Checkers were off to a 2-0 start with a pair of 3-2 wins over the Barons — a small bit of revenge for last year’s Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
And oddly enough given recent history, the Carolina Hurricanes have been relatively healthy and have only had to make a single recall. With Anton Khudobin suffering what appeared to be an ankle injury Sunday afternoon, Justin Peters was promoted to Raleigh. Everyone else has had to make due with practices and scrimmages to stay in shape.
One player who has welcomed the downtime is newly-signed Manny Malhotra, who had missed all of training camp and was brought into the fold just days before the Checkers’ first game.
“There’s no replicating game action and I’d like to be in as many game situations as possible, but it’s good to get around the guys to build some chemistry and learn the system,” he said. “I guess it’s a blessing in disguise.”
Opening the Flood Gates
After scoring twice in each of the Checkers’ first two gates, Mark Flood is making an early case to be one of the first call-ups should the Hurricanes need an offensive defenseman. Flood last played in the NHL during the 2011-12 season, scoring 3 goals and 7 points in 33 games for the Winnipeg Jets.
At worst, Flood provides some veteran experience to an otherwise youthful Charlotte blue line. Danny Biega, who oddly enough shares a birthday with Flood, projects as a similar defenseman, and could become a protege of sorts under the 29-year-old.
Return to a Rotation
If the first two games are any indication, it appears as though Jeff Daniels will be going with a goaltender platoon rather than the traditional starter-backup pairing. Mike Murphy started the Checkers’ season opener, stopping 22 of 24 shots, while Peters got game two, turning aside 32 of 34.
It’s a formula that’s worked for most of the team’s existence, and one that could see the two goalies push each other. Both are on one-year deals and both could be playing for their jobs, if not their careers.
Jeff Daniels’ Seat Temperature Cold — For Now
While it’s entirely too early to speculate, an eye should be kept on Daniels’ job situation going forward. He’s overseen an era that’s been an abject failure of talent development for the organization, and his coaching record of 200-151-41 over five seasons is barely a playoff pace — 88 points on average a year.
If the Checkers struggle, Daniels may be the first casualty. This edition of the team is too talented to suffer another heartbreak that has been a little too common under his tenure.