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Checkers still 1st, but did Toronto explose a flaw?

Haydn Fleury has been called up from the Charlotte Checkers to the parent Carolina Hurricanes for a West Coast trip that began Sunday.
Haydn Fleury has been called up from the Charlotte Checkers to the parent Carolina Hurricanes for a West Coast trip that began Sunday. cseward@newsobserver.com

The Charlotte Checkers are still first in the American Hockey League’s Atlantic Division, still have the league’s best record, and still have scored more goals than anyone else in the AHL.

But a chink in the armor might have been exposed over the weekend, when the defending AHL champion Toronto Marlies came to town and swept two games.

The Checkers managed to salvage one point from the weekend, forcing overtime Saturday night before losing 4-3. But they were beaten soundly Sunday afternoon, by a 5-0 count.

With a number of players back from the squad that won the Calder Cup last spring, the Marlies are among the AHL’s most veteran teams. Checkers coach Mike Vellucci says that was a problem for his team.

“We looked rattled,” he said after Sunday’s loss at Bojangles Coliseum. “They’re more experienced than us, and they took their experience and used it against us.”

Checkers’ forward Andrew Poturalski, named last week to the AHL All-Star Classic, said his team – among the younger rosters in the league – can learn from what happened.

“They definitely have a good team,” he said of the Marlies. “They know what it takes to win. To see their work ethic on a back-to-back with a tough Sunday game, they brought it.

“We’ve got to take that, learn from it, and move on.”

Vellucci said some changes are coming this week with the team’s power play, which he said was anemic during the six-game home stand that ended Sunday.

“I’m going to make some changes on it this week with personnel,” he said.

Here’s a review of the past week and what’s ahead:

Personnel changes: Goalkeeper Alex Nedeljkovic, who leads the AHL in victories and minutes played, was called up by the Checkers’ National Hockey League parent team, the Carolina Hurricanes, for their western trip that began Sunday in Edmonton. Also called up was defenseman Haydn Fleury, who was sent down to the Checkers from the Hurricanes earlier this month to recover from a concussion.

The Hurricanes sent forward Clark Bishop down to Charlotte (the 12th time he’s been shuffled between the two teams), and the Checkers called goalie Callum Booth up from the ECHL.

Tuesday: A sellout crowd of 8,372 watched the Checkers blank the Bridgeport Sound 1-0. It was a franchise-record eighth shutout for Nedeljkovic, who made 20 saves.

Wednesday: Charlotte scored four first-period goals and beat Bridgeport Sound 6-4, opening a 13-point lead over the Tigers. Defenseman Trevor Carrick had a goal and three assists. A crowd of 4,737 watched.

Saturday: Another sellout gathering, of 8,389, watched the 4-3 overtime loss to Toronto. Jake Bean and Patrick Brown scored in the third period, helping the Checkers erase a 3-1 deficit and force overtime.

Sunday: Another big crowd, 7,679, was on hand for the 5-0 loss to Toronto.

Standings: The Checkers lead second-place Bridgeport Sound by 12 points. Charlotte has earned 72.7 percent of their possible points this season – best in the AHL.

Week ahead: The Checkers play at 7:05 p.m. Friday at Providence and at 7 p.m. Saturday in Hartford.

Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle

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