Amid the Charlotte Checkers’ high-scoring front lines are a pair of defensemen who are putting up outstanding numbers this season.
While the Checkers feature the American Hockey League’s goal-scoring leader, Valentin Zykov, and several others among the offensive leaders, they also have the AHL’s No. 2 and 4 defensemen.
Philip Samuelsson has a plus-25 rating, second-best in the league. That means the Checkers have scored 25 more goals than they’ve allowed this season with Samuelsson, a 26-year-old Swedish-born defender, on the ice.
Ranking fourth, with a plus-21 rating, is 21-year-old Roland McKeown.
Samuelsson is the son of one-time NHL defensive standout Ulf Samuelsson, who also coached Charlotte last season. Ulf is now an assistant with the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks.
McKeown played on several Canadian national junior teams before turning professional.
Here’s how the Checkers fared last week:
▪ Wednesday: Coming off the Christmas break, Charlotte opened a road trip with a 6-2 loss to the Binghamton Devils. They fell behind 2-0 in the first 15 minutes. Zykov tallied his league-leading 19th goal.
▪ Friday: The Checkers traveled to Lehigh Valley and dropped their third straight, 3-1. Once again, Charlotte fell behind 2-0 quickly (first 10 minutes). Warren Foegele scored for the Checkers in the third period.
▪ Saturday: The losing streak ended with a 5-2 victory at Lehigh Valley, in a game that was much closer than the score indicates. The Checkers were up 2-1 with only 2:30 to play. That’s when Foegele scored for a 3-1 lead. The Phantoms narrowed the gap to 3-2 with about two minutes left and pulled their goalkeeper for an extra attacker. Charlotte then scored two empty-net goals.
▪ The standings: The Checkers are third in the AHL Atlantic, trailing the Providence Bruins and Lehigh Valley. The margin between second place (Lehigh Valley) and fourth (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) is very close.
▪ The week ahead: The Checkers are on the road next Saturday (7 p.m.) and Sunday (5 p.m.), facing the Hershey Bears.