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Checkers’ story so far … different star every night on way to top of AHL

Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic has 15 victories this season, No. 1 in the AHL.
Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic has 15 victories this season, No. 1 in the AHL. cseward@newsobserver.com

The Charlotte Checkers will finish 2018 as one of the American Hockey League’s best teams – but with few league statistical leaders.

They are a team that tends to win close games and does it with a different star on a different night.

The Checkers have earned 73.5 percent of their possible points this season, second-best in the AHL to San Jose. They lead the AHL’s Atlantic Division by three points over Bridgeport Sound, rank No. 2 in goals scored (behind Lehigh Valley) and are No. 1 in lowest number of goals allowed.

All this has been accomplished despite the loss of several players in call-ups to the Checkers’ NHL parent team, the Carolina Hurricanes. Forward Clark Bishop and Janne Kuokkanen, two of the team’s leading scorers, were promoted to Raleigh last week.

And despite being a league power in many team categories, the only Checkers player you’ll find at or near the top of an individual statistic is goalkeeper Alex Nedeljkovic, whose 15 victories are No. 1.

The Checkers have no players in the top 20 in goals or assists. The team’s top overall point-producer, forward Andrew Poturalski, ranks 10th in the league in that category.

Penalty leader Dan Renouf ranks fifth overall in the league, and nobody on the current roster is in the top 20 of the AHL in power-play goals.

It’s been a story of a different leader in nearly every game. Poturalski got the game-winning goal Saturday night. In the victories before that, the decisive goals came from Morgan Geekie, Aleksi Saarela and Martin Necas.

Another statistic to note – six of the Checkers’ past seven victories came by a one-goal margin.

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

Friday: The Checkers opened a Quebec visit with a 4-2 loss to the Laval Rocket. Charlotte trailed 3-0 after one period, closed the gap on goals by Greg McKegg and Dennis Robertson, but allowed another goal in the final minutes. There were three fights in the first 23 minutes, with the Checkers’ Zack Stortini, Patrick Brown and Steven Lorentz penalized for their roles.

Saturday: Charlotte fell behind 2-0 in the first period, but battled back for a 5-4 overtime victory against Laval. Nick Schilkey and Geekie each had three points, and Poturalski scored the game-winner at 1:08 of overtime.

Week ahead: The Checkers spend the week in Ontario. They have a 3 p.m. New Year’s Eve game at the Toronto Marlies, then play Friday and Saturday nights at Belleville before a game next Sunday afternoon in Toronto. Charlotte opens a six-game home stand Jan. 11.

Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle

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