After starting the season with wins on consecutive days against the Oklahoma City Barons, the Checkers entered Saturday’s home opener having not played a game since Oct. 5.
The two-week layoff showed, as the Checkers fell to the Iowa Wild, 3-1, in front of a crowd of 9,021 at Time Warner Cable Arena.
The Checkers (2-1) outshot the Wild – formally the Houston Aeros – 34-27, but lacked a consistent offensive attack and struggled on the power play, finishing 0-for-4.
“We were excited to play the home opener so maybe there was just a little rust,” said Chris Terry, who scored Charlotte’s lone goal on a wicked one-timer from just outside the right dot with 13:51 remaining.
“It’s different,” Terry said. “You can’t replicate a game until you get in one, and I thought we eventually settled in.”
However, just as the Checkers looked to be finding their skates, two first-period penalties – the second coming just 32 seconds after the they had successfully killed off the first – took their legs out from under them.
The Wild (2-1), who entered the game 0-for-3 with a man-advantage on the season, made the Checkers pay when Tyler Graovac deflected a shot from the top of the slot past Charlotte goaltender Mike Murphy at the 16:02 mark for a power-play goal and a 1-0 lead.
“It’s tough because you’re kind of running the same guys over and over,” Checkers coach Jeff Daniels said. “We don’t win that faceoff and all of the sudden were in the zone for a minute-plus, and then we got tired, and all the sudden weren’t thinking as much and weren’t getting those loose pucks. And sure enough it ended up in the back of the net.”
With Justin Peters up with the Hurricanes because of an injury to Anton Khudobin, the Checkers looked to Murphy in net for the second time this season. He turned in a solid performance stopping 24 of 27 shot he face, but dropped to 1-1 on the season.
The performance of the night, went to Wild goaltender Johan Gustafsson, who turned away 33 shots – including 11 in a second period that featured three Checkers power plays.
The missed opportunities came back to bite the Checkers in the third period when the Wild took a 2-0 lead at the 5:06 mark on a wrist shot by Taylor Matson that found its way past Murphy.
Terry’s strike in the third cut the Iowa lead to one, but a Zack Phillips goal just more than three minutes later put it away.
“I thought the effort was there, I thought we worked hard, we battled hard,” Daniels said. “You’ve got to give them credit. I thought they had real solid road game. They did a great job blocking shots and not giving up a lot of opportunities, but at the end of the night we didn’t score enough.”
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