It’s tough to find flaws with the Charlotte Checkers this season, but there’s one area that could use some improving.
The Checkers don’t do homecomings very well.
Twice this season, Charlotte returned from a lengthy road trip and gave a flat performance in front of a home crowd.
It’s among very few problems for a Checkers’ team that has the best record in the American Hockey League this season and could open a huge lead in the Atlantic Division in the coming week. But it’s a problem coach Mike Vellucci would like to solve.
“We just didn’t come ready to play, and that happens when you have these long road trips,” Vellucci said after Charlotte’s 5-1 loss Friday night to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, in front of 8,122 fans at Bojangles Coliseum. “You talk about it and talk about it, and you can’t do it.”
It was reminiscent of a 5-1 Charlotte loss in December after a six-game trip.
This time, the Checkers had won four of six games on a two-week Canadian trip, but Vellucci said the team lacked focus Friday.
It was a different story 24 hours later, when the Checkers beat the Penguins 5-3 – this time with another near-capacity crowd of 8,356 watching.
“I could tell in the locker room that they were focused before the game, and that’s what you have to be all the time,” Vellucci said.
The Checkers’ coach said losing focus after a road trip is something you might find in a young team such as Charlotte, but he added, “That’s my job and the veterans’ job to keep the guys focused.”
The good news is that road trips are few in number the rest of the regular season. Charlotte played 13 of its opening 17 games away from home but has 22 of its final 36 contests at Bojangles Coliseum.
Here is a look at the past week and what’s ahead:
Friday: Charlotte fell behind 3-0 against the Penguins and never recovered. Vellucci lifted veteran goalkeeper Scott Darling, saying the team was not playing well in front of him.
Saturday: This time, the Checkers jumped to a 3-0 lead in the opening nine minutes. Julien Gauthier and Nicolas Roy each had three points in the game. A postgame jersey auction raised $17,475 for ovarian cancer research.
The week ahead: The Checkers host the second-place Bridgeport Sound at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday. Only a limited number of tickets remain for Tuesday’s game, which is Oldies Night with tickets starting at $1. Should Charlotte sweep the two games against the Tigers, they would have a 13-point lead in the Atlantic Division.
The Checkers finish their six-game home stand by hosting the defending AHL champion Toronto Marlies at 6 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle