An upper-body injury forced Checkers forward Justin Shugg off the Time Warner Cable Arena ice for nearly 3 1/2 weeks.
It was Shugg’s power-play goal in the third period that gave the Checkers a three-goal edge on the Norfolk Admirals and all but sealed an eventual 6-2 American Hockey League win in front of 4,012 Tuesday.
As Charlotte – which entered Tuesday ranked 29th in goals per game – struggled to generate any kind of consistent offense, Shugg would watch – and learn – from a seat just under Section 108.
“Being an eye in the sky let me analyze us as a team,” said Shugg, who has scored in all three games since his return. “When I matched up with (Brock McGinn) and (Kyle Jean), I had been able to see them play and was able to work off a visual instead of just hopping into a game where I really didn’t feel comfortable.”
Asked about what it has meant to have Shugg – the team’s leading returning scorer from last season – back, Charlotte coach Jeff Daniels didn’t hold back.
“It’s huge,” he said. “He’s obviously, if not our most-skilled guy, one of the top two. When he gets the puck around the net, he has the capability to finish. You know, some guys don’t have that natural ability. ‘Shuggy’ can finish plays.”
The Checkers are 2-1-1-0 over their past four games despite playing what Daniels called their best hockey of the season. They just hadn’t – until Tuesday – been getting the bounces.
The six-goal outburst on Norfolk goalie Yann Danis (27 saves) was the most this season from Charlotte.
“I think it’s huge for the mindset in that locker room,” said Daniels, whose team won back-to-back games at home for the first time this season.
“We’ve talked about how we’ve liked the last three games but haven’t really been rewarded. It’s just a matter of sticking with it and believing in it and we got a better result tonight.”
Backup goaltender John Muse got the call for the Checkers and was spotted to a 2-0 lead in the first period before having to face a shot. Muse (1-2-0), who last played Nov. 8, finished with 26 saves to record his first win of the season.
“I let Muse know a couple days ago that he was going to play because I know he’s the type of kid that gets very focused and has his routine,” Daniels said. “He got a chance and he’s been waiting for it. He’s been real patient and understanding … but he was ready to play (Tuesday) and I didn’t expect anything less from him.”
Gregg Nemisz finished with two goals and an assist, and Chad LaRose added a pair of assists. Nemisz leads the Checkers in points with 13, and LaRose ranks second with nine.
But it was Shugg – who is second on the team with four goals despite playing in just six games – who remained on Daniels’ mind.
“He still doesn’t have his legs fully under him yet,” Daniels said, “and he’s still needs to get a few more games and practices under his belt before you really see him take off.”
First Period–1, Charlotte, Aleardi 2 (Carrick, Woods), 2:48. 2, Charlotte, Rissanen 1 (Jenks), 3:27. 3, Norfolk, Kurtz 2 (O’Brien), 13:43. Penalties–Woods, C (elbowing), 6:18; Rowe, C (hooking), 10:21; Bell, N (tripping), 10:59.
Second Period–4, Charlotte, Jordan 2 (Jenks), 4:04. Penalties–Laganiere, N (tripping), 4:17; Cantin, N (high-sticking), 13:01; LaRose, C (slashing), 15:31; Kerdiles, N (tripping), 19:12.
Third Period–5, Charlotte, Shugg 4 (Murphy, Nemisz), 0:38 (PP). 6, Charlotte, Nemisz 7 (LaRose, Jordan), 8:32. 7, Charlotte, Nemisz 8 (LaRose), 9:26 (SH). 8, Norfolk, Laganiere 3 (Gagne, McIver), 16:28. Penalties–McIver, N (fighting major), 3:43; Hagel, C (fighting major), 3:43; Shugg, C (holding the stick), 9:17; Rissanen, C (cross-checking), 12:47.
Shots on goal–Norfolk 8-7-13–28. Charlotte 13-7-13–33. Goalies–Norfolk, Danis 1-1-0 (33 shots-27 saves). Charlotte, Muse 1-2-0 (28 shots-26 saves). Att.–4,012 (at Charlotte).