John Muse isn’t flashy like Rick DiPietro tried to be.
He doesn’t have the prototypical body for a goaltender, a la Justin Peters, and he’s not ranked in the top-five in the American Hockey League in wins, goals against average, or save percentage.
Muse is soft-spoken – almost to the point where he can be difficult to hear at times – and, although he’s always willing to speak with the media, it’s clear he’d rather avoid the post-game spotlight.
But that’s where he found himself on Thursday night, after making 31 saves on the way to his third shutout of the season in a 4-0 win over the Oklahoma City Barons for the Checkers in front of 5,916 at Time Warner Cable Arena.
“It feels good to get the shutout,” said Muse, who has now won 11 of his last 13 starts. “But, it’s a testament to how the team played as a whole and it was good to get two points for us.”
It’s been Muse’s emergence as the Charlotte’s every-day goaltender – after not even making the team to begin the season – that has helped the Checkers rally from a four-point November, back into playoff contention over the past month and a half.
“He’s proven to be a winner throughout his career,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels of Muse, whose record now stands at 15-8-0. “He’s proved he can win at this level. Last year was kind of an off year for him and he’s bounced back this year and is always very focused and ready to play.”
The Checkers (20-19-1), who moved to within one point of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with the win, are 5-11-1 when anyone other than Muse gets the start in net.
Charlotte’s second line of Brody Sutter, Aaron Palushaj and Greg Nemisz got the scoring started in the first period, when Palushaj found Nemisz open in front of the net for a one-timer at 12:12.
The goal gave Nemisz at lease a point in all five of his games (2g, 4a) since joining the Checkers on Jan. 3 and the assist extended Palushaj current point streak to six games (5g, 4a).
“That line has been real good for us and Brody deserves a lot of credit because he’s been real solid down the middle of the ice,” said Daniels of his second line. “Palushaj, for the last month and a half, has been a go-to guy for us and (Nemisz) has come in with a fresh start and is playing with a lot of confidence.”
An unassisted Justin Shugg goal – his first of two on the night – put the Checkers up 2-0 one minute and 31 seconds after the Nemisz strike.
Shugg came racing in on a two-on-one, with Philippe Cornet on his left, before a quick wrist shot beat Bachman five-hole.
The Checkers’ second short-handed goal of the season put them up 3-0 at 15:50 in the second period. It came on a two-on-one, when Chris Terry threaded a last-second cross-ice pass to Brett Sutter for the easy finish.
The Checkers penalty killers shut down the Barons on all seven of their chance with a man-advantage.
With the win, Charlotte improved to 5-0 against the Barons – who it will face again on Friday – this season. The Checkers can now credit Oklahoma City for 25-percent of their total wins this season.
“I think it’s just two clubs battling hard and we’ve just had more bounces go our way then they have,” said Shugg. “They’ll be a different hockey club (Friday) and we just have to come back with the great pace we had tonight.”
1st Period-1, Charlotte, Nemisz 7 (Palushaj), 12:12. 2, Charlotte, Shugg 10 13:43. Penalties-Lowe Cha (hooking), 1:41; Boychuk Cha (goaltender interference), 14:23; Eager Okc (slashing, unsportsmanlike conduct), 16:28.
2nd Period-3, Charlotte, Bre. Sutter 3 (Terry), 15:50 (SH). 4, Charlotte, Shugg 11 (Boychuk, Biega), 18:21. Penalties-Eager Okc (unsportsmanlike conduct, misconduct - abuse of officials), 0:42; Bre. Sutter Cha (hooking), 1:13; Rissanen Cha (boarding), 1:54; Combs Okc (slashing), 4:39; Palushaj Cha (hooking), 14:08.
3rd Period- No Scoring. Penalties-Palushaj Cha (closing hand on puck), 4:24; Ford Okc (holding), 8:24; Pinizzotto Okc (cross-checking), 10:25; Rissanen Cha (interference), 12:11; Eager Okc (game misconduct - abuse of officials), 16:46.
Shots on Goal-Oklahoma City 6-18-7-31. Charlotte 18-10-8-36. Power Play Opportunities-Oklahoma City 0 / 7; Charlotte 0 / 6. Goalies-Oklahoma City, Bachman 8-12-2 (28 shots-24 saves); Pickard 1-1-0 (8 shots-8 saves). Charlotte, Muse 15-8-0 (31 shots-31 saves). A-5,916. Referees-Jamie Koharski (84), David Banfield (77). Linesmen-Jesse Pletsch (51), Zachary Thornton (78).
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