Charlotte Checkers

As they continue to struggle, Checkers say goaltending is not on their list of worries

Charlotte goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, shown igniting the celebration after the Checkers won the 2019 Calder Cup, is winless in four starts in the new season.
Charlotte goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, shown igniting the celebration after the Checkers won the 2019 Calder Cup, is winless in four starts in the new season. Charlotte Checkers

Anton Forsberg is 4-0 in goal this season for the Charlotte Checkers. Alex Nedeljkovic is 0-4.

But Checkers’ fans needn’t be worried about Nedeljkovic, arguably the team’s No. 1 goalie and the 2018-19 American Hockey League Goalkeeper of the Year.

So say Checkers’ players and team officials.

The most recent assurances came from Checkers’ radio voice Jason Shaya in his weekly update. He said Nedeljkovic “was easily the best player for Charlotte on Saturday.”

Nedeljkovic, 23, signed to a contract extension in the offseason by the Checkers’ NHL parent club, the Carolina Hurricanes, made 39 saves in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. He was pummeled with 24 shots in the second period, and his strong play helped keep Charlotte in the game.

Both Nedeljkovic and Forsberg have been forced to make a lot of saves so far this campaign, and Charlotte coach Ryan Warsofsky and team captain Roland McKeown say the problem is with the team’s drive.

“Urgency, determination, speed and losing 50/50 (battles),” Warsofsky said, when asked about the Saturday loss. “Just our focus. We didn’t have our jump.”

Added McKeown: “We’ve got to find it in ourselves to play our game, which is a fast game and it’s demanding.”

The Checkers, defending AHL champions, already have dug themselves into a bit of a hole. They sit seventh of eight teams in the Atlantic Division and are 13th of 16 teams in the Eastern Conference.

Here’s a look at the past week, and what’s ahead:

Friday: After playing to a 2-2 tie in regulation and the five-minute overtime, the Checkers beat Lehigh Valley 3-2 in a penalty-shot shootout in front of 5,912 fans at Bojangles Coliseum. Chase Priskie and Kyle Wood scored in regulation. In the shootout, the first seven shooters from Lehigh Valley and the first six from Charlotte failed to score. Wood connected on the seventh Charlotte attempt.

Saturday: A crowd of 6,977 watched the Checkers fall 3-2 at home to Lehigh Valley. Janne Kuokkanen and Jake Bean scored for Charlotte.

Personnel: Forward Brian Gibbons was assigned to Charlotte on Saturday by the Hurricanes but then returned to the NHL on Monday. With eight points in six games, Gibbons is the Checkers’ No. 2 scorer this season.

Otherwise, forward Stelio Mattheos, who was superb for Charlotte in its Calder Cup-winning run last season but has missed the first eight games this year with an injury, could return to the ice this weekend.

What’s ahead: The Checkers are in Cleveland for games Friday evening and Sunday afternoon against the Monsters. Charlotte returns home Nov. 8 and 9 for games against the Springfield Thunderbirds.

Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle



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