Quick Hits – Movie sets, player departures and more

Is it October yet?

Summer has been flying for me between traveling and working on a movie set, but with the 100 degree weather we’ve been having lately, there is nothing I’d like more than to be sitting on the ice at the arena watching the Checkers play!  The good news is, we’re down to 56 days until the Hurricanes play the Winnipeg Jets in Charlotte.  That’s less than two months!

Also, I know the production assistants on the movie were just trying to be helpful, but isn’t the orange paper sign a bit redundant?  These things are all over my work.  I was surprised there wasn’t one labeling the restrooms (which are already clearly labeled).  My favorite are the big yellow ones that say SET all over the stage… because, you know, it’s easily confused with the restrooms…

Anyway, back to Hockey.

All is quiet on the Checkers contract front.  Last year, the first Checkers signing was July 29, a one-year deal to new Washington Capital Jacob Micflikier.  The remainder of the AHL contracts (Brad Herauf, Elgin Reid, Ethan Graham, Bobby Goepfert, etc.), came in mid-August and later.  I’d expect more signings in the coming weeks to fill AHL roster holes.  We saw the first a couple of weeks ago with the signing of John Muse.

Things have been slow on the Checkers news front…. but here are a few things worth noting:

  • On the goalie front, two of the 2010/11 Goaltenders have signed deals with new teams.  Justin Pogge signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Phoenix Coyotes.  Since he is the sixth goaltender the Coyotes have under contract, one would assume he was signed for minor-league duty in Portland.
  • Goepardy expert Bobby Goepfert has signed in Germany with the DEG Metro Stars.  It’s a team in Dusseldorf.  His sense of humor and intermission commentary on the radio with Shaya will be missed!
  • Zac Dalpe is participating in a very cool camp as a part of the NHLPA.  It’s called the Allstate All-Canadians Camp.  Other NHLPA representatives include Hurricanes Jeff Skinner and Tim Brent, plus NHL present and future greats such as Jason Spezza, Steve Staios, Luke and Braden Schenn, and many others.  Camp participants are 42 Bantam aged (15 year old) youth who were selected from all across Canada.

The one about the Senators/Checkers series preview

Last night, I had dinner with my parents and a friend. I was telling her that I had become so involved with the Checkers and their playoff run that I’d been neglecting most other facets of my life, and focusing only on hockey.  My mom chimed in that she was glad I was dropping everything for something constructive and great, and not just a man.  I promptly responded “No, mom, it’s not just one man.  It’s 20 men, and I’m very much involved with every one of them.”

Like the Checkers, the Binghamton Senators have defeated teams that many felt were unbeatable in the first two rounds of their playoff run.  Also similar to the Checkers, the Senators started the playoffs with a more veteran, experienced netminder (Barry Brust for the Sens, and Justin Pogge for the Checkers) but midway through the first round switched netminders to bring in a rookie instead.  For both the Checkers and Senators, this decision has paid off.  Binghamton is a team that barely made the playoffs, and has been playing in the Atlantic division in the transfer spot, having finished in fifth in our own East division, but higher than the fourth place team in the Atlantic.

During the first round, Binghamton defeated the Manchester Monarchs in a seven-game series that included five contests that went into overtime.  Their second round of the playoffs was against the number one seed in the Atlantic conference, the Portland Pirates.  That series went six games, with no overtime contests, and only two one-goal differential games.  (As compared to the Checkers/Penguins round, which also went six games,  included one overtime contest and saw five of the six games end with a one-goal differential.)

IN THE CREASE

Netminder Barry Brust started all eight games vs. CLT in the regular season this year, but Robin Lehner has started all Bingo games since game six in the first round of the playoffs.

Robin Lehner, 19, is a Swedish goaltender who was drafted in 2009 by the Ottawa Senators.  A rookie this season, he finished the year in the AHL.  He played in 22 games for Binghamton and had a record of 10-8-2-3.  He had a 2.91 GAA, and a .912 SV%.  He played for Sweden at the 2011 World Juniors, and spent some time in Ottawa with the NHL club during January.  In the playoffs, Lehner has started in nine games (he was pulled in one contest during the second round).  He is 7-2 in the playoffs, has one shutout.  He has a 2.59 GAA, and a .926 SV%.  I asked Checkers D-man Michal Jordan about him during the playoff rally on Tuesday, and Jordan was quick to respond that he’d played and beaten him in the OHL, so he wasn’t worried.

For Charlotte, Mike Murphy went 1-1 vs. the Senators during the regular season (Pogge made the other six starts).  In the playoffs, Murphy has a record of 7-3, with one shutout.  He boasts a rather impressive 1.79 GAA, and a .944 SV%.

OFFENSE – the Zac(h)s vs. the Ryans

In 13 playoff games, Senators centerman Ryan Potulny has 19 points, scoring 10 goals and nine assists.  He was a mid-season addition to the Ottawa organization, having been traded from Chicago.

Captain Ryan Keller follows close behind Potulny with 16 points.  He has six goals, and 10 helpers in his 13 playoff games.  Other offensive support comes from Kaspars Daugavins, Zack Smith, Bobby Butler and Andre Benoit.  Benoit, a defenseman, is an AHL veteran having won the Calder cup with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2007, the season he and the rest of his team stole the heart of this Chasing Checkers blogger.  But I’ll save more about him for the defense part of this preview!

For Charlotte, rookie Zac Dalpe, having played in all 12 playoff game, with five goals and seven assists.  Brett Sutter is close behind with 11 points, scoring four goals and seven assists in his 12 games, leads the Checkers in offenses.  Other offensive forces include Zach Boychuck, Drayson Bowman and Jon Matsumoto.

Overall, the Senators have allowed 41 goals during the playoffs, and scored 46.  In contrast to this, the Checkers who many consider to be an offensive force, have scored only 29 goals, and allowed 27, mostly due to the goaltending awesomeness of Mike Murphy.

DEFENSE, and PIMs

Andre Benoit skates for the Senators during a regular-season match-up against the Checkers. Photo Credit: Jenni Propst

The Senators defense is led by alternate captain Andre Benoit.  I have admired him for years, having followed him to the Calder Cup in 2007, when he scored 13 points in 22 playoff games.  He’s one of those small, speedy defenseman that you can’t help but like when they play for your team, but I can assure you Checkers fans, that despite my past history with number 61, my allegiance lies firmly with Charlotte now!

On the penalties front, Zack Smith has appeared in all 13 playoff games and leads the Senators in PIMs with 14.  All of these penalties were minors, ranging from interference to boarding.

Zack FitzGerald leads the Checkers with 24 PIMs in seven post-season appearances.  He received five roughing minor penalties in game two against Wilkes-Barre.  After that game two loss, FitzGerald was benched for the following three games, finally returning in game six, where he only took one minor penalty for high sticking, and ended the night with a plus two.  It will be interesting to see what defenseman sits against Binghamton, but my guess it it will be Fitzgerald, more often than not, simply because the Senators playing style doesn’t seem to require that of an enforcer like FitzGerald.

 An interesting note in regards to the Senators is that in 13 playoff games, they did not receive any fighting majors, and only one roughing penalty.  By the contrary, Charlotte has 23 roughing penalties, and one fighting major in their 12 playoff games.  While the Checkers have a phenomenal penalty kill, staying out of the box may prove to be a key element to this third-round series.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Binghamton Senators, overall, have a more veteran roster, featuring guys like Corey Locke and Andre Benoit who both won the Calder Cup in 2007 with Hamilton.  The Checkers, while a bit younger, have a very impressive roster, despite inexperience in the playoffs beyond the second round.  (This is the first time in Hurricane’s history that their farm team has gone beyond the second round!).

While it’s not an AHL championship, the Checkers boast guys like Captain Rodney who won the Memorial Cup with the London Knights (and Corey Perry, Danny Syvret, Rob Schremp, and Marc Methot) in 2005, and Justin Faulk, who recently won the 2011 NCAA Championship with UM-Duluth.  Syvret was the captain of the 2005 London Knight squad, and is currently a member of the Philadelphia Flyers (and also a former Calder Cup winner in 2007 with Hamilton).  He tweeted the following yesterday:

I think I’m going to have to aggree on all fronts with Syvret… both on the Rodney fanclub, AND the desire for a final round vs. Hamilton!

PREDICTION TIME

During the last round, I got it wrong when I predicted that the Checkers would beat the Penguins in seven games.  (We did it in six… I’d rather the number of games be wrong more than the final outcome!)  For this round, I’m going to say Charlotte Checkers in six games over Binghamton.  Both on paper and in my heart and soul, Charlotte seems to be the team to beat at this point in the series, but by no means am I discrediting Binghamton’s ability.  They’ve clearly overcome a lot, and have that fierce, determined underdog thing going for them that tends to pay off in the playoffs.

Cut and paste from a post I did last weekend:  I’m sure all of my readers know all of the Checkers twitters worth following, so focusing on Binghamton links.

Binghamton Twitter accounts and Links of Interest:

And with that, I have to finish packing for my flight to Chicago.  Who knew that you could fly direct out of the tiny, two gate Asheville Regional Airport!  I’ll take it, even if my plane may have propellers.  Just a reminder, the awesome @nafsnep at Chirps from Center Ice will be providing tonight’s post-game report.  He’s a Penguins fan, but a really smart guy when it comes to hockey, and a blogging idol of mine.  I wish I could be there with you all in Charlotte, but I’ll be there in spirit! 


Lets Go Checkers

The one about being a fan of the best team in the AHL

I had quite the Checkers-filled day, which for a Tuesday in May, is pretty outstanding, if you ask me, since there are now only four teams in the AHL, and five in the NHL still competing for their respective championships!

I spent my morning at the Xtreme Ice Center watching practice, and while I tried to be diligent and take notes about who skated with who, what lines practiced together, and who was missing, etc, I can sum all of my thoughts in just a few sentences.  In the half a dozen or so practices I’ve taken in this season, and the equal number I’ve seen by NHL teams, I’ve never seen the kind of energy our guys put into it today.  I was seriously exhausted just watching them skate, and do their drills for 45 minutes.  Their energy was contagious, and I think I had a smile on my face when I left the rink that carried me on through tonight.  I have so much faith in this team… in MY team… and nothing but positive thoughts are going to be sent their way for the rest of the playoff run.  When I see the Charlotte Checkers, I can envision great things, and I know that all of them are possible.  (And I’m talking greater things than a championship in Charlotte… that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  What impresses me is this team’s ability to make a difference in OTHER ways, too!)

Tonight, I had the privilege of attending a Charlotte Checkers Playoff Rally and Viewing Party of ESPN’s new show, E:60, which had a feature on the Bennett family and their recent move to Charlotte.  I was impressed with the turnout, not only by the fans, but by the team.I decided it was a good opportunity to bring some non-Checkers fans to an event and show them a good time, and I think it worked well (except when friend number two asked when the playoffs started…. I’m still working on educating her…).  Guys like Mike Murphy and Chris Terry made a point of introducing themselves to my friend, which is just a small sign of the high level of character and professionalism this team has.

You see, I come from a professional sports background where obligated “appearances” by the athletes are extremely limited by their contracts.  So to have an event like the Checkers did, so late in the season, where almost every player attended on a completely VOLUNTEER basis, impressed me like crazy.  From my vantage point, almost every player showed up, including some of our black aces, like Mike McKenzie, and I even saw NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Joey Logano hanging out!  Not only were these players in attendance, they were engaged and sociable as they circulated among the crowd, spoke with media, fans and season ticket holders.

When the night began, I immediately assumed that the last three players to leave would be Zack FitzGerald, Mike Murphy and Michal Jordan, because they are the three guys I’ve noticed who are most engaged with the fans in Charlotte.  While I wasn’t right on the money, I was close, because they certainly stayed for a long time until way later than most fans had left.   The two players who stuck around the longest impressed me the most.  Long after most families and such had left, Justin Pogge and Brad Herauf stayed, spending time with each of the Bennett children, playing ping-pong, and taking time to let each child how much they meant to their team.

It’s a night like tonight (or last night, as I watch the clock creep further into the morning) that make me so incredibly proud to be a Checkers fan.  This is a team that goes out of their way to support families like the Bennet’s, and does all they do in the Charlotte community,  and then plans a playoff rally/viewing party.  Many organizations may do something like this just for the PR stunt and good press it might obtain, but I firmly believe that there was no ulterior motive by the team.

I started this blog because I believe in this team, and in the organization.  I am so proud to be here in Charlotte, and SO PROUD of our team.  If Chasing Checkers has any impact at all on our larger Checkers community, I hope that it is to convey all of the amazing thing the organization does for Charlotte, and how lucky we are to have such a top-notch team.  As the season progresses (and thank goodness, continues well into the post season!) I find it harder and harder to separate myself from them.  I’m no longer just a season ticket holder watching games, I really and truly feel like I’m a part of it all, as all of the fans in Charlotte are.
So as if I haven’t been sappy enough (and for that, I apologize, honestly!), I will close with this.  I’m headed to Chicago on Thursday.  My baby brother is graduating from Seminary so that he can become a Pastor, and I’m spending the weekend with family and my best friend who I’ve known since the eighth grade.  We met in the Explorers club at the Charlotte Observer, where both of us thought we wanted to learn how to be journalists… I’d almost forgotten about that, but I desperately wanted to be a sports writer back then, and cover the NBA and the Phoenix Suns… here I am, 20 years later, and I’m a fan blogger for an AHL team.  I had no idea my dreams would come full circle as they have!  But anyway, my point is, I’m missing the first two games of the Eastern Finals.  And it pains me, a lot, but I also know, that even 800 miles away, I’ll still be at the game in spirit, cheering the Checkers on to another victory.  All of us that cheer for our team, we’re all a part of it, and I truly believe that the passion and support we have for our team will help carry them a long way.

Cheer extra loud for me this weekend, Charlotte.  I want to hear you all the way in Chicago!

Lets Go Checkers

Quick hits

Tuesday Night Observations-

  • I already miss netminder Mike Murphy, and fear he could require a lengthy recovery.  When he was tripped in Wilkes-Barre, he apparently hit his head on the ice and we all know what head injuries can mean in hockey.  Justin Pogge played well last night, but the Phantoms were shorthanded a great deal and Pogge only faced 19 shots in 60 minutes of play.

 

  • Netminder Bobby Goepfert was headed back to Fort Meyers, FL tonight so he can play for the Everblades at home.  I understand he will return to the Checkers after that game for our two game road trip this weekend to back up Pogge until Murphy makes a full recovery.

 

  • It was great to see the Checkers getting so many shots on goal.  I’ve been worried about their offensive production as of late, and their ability to shoot the puck.  Phantoms goalie faced 40 shots, which is more goal attempts than we’ve been able to produce lately.  It seems whenever we call up Cedric McNicoll he brings some fire to our offense.
  • I think Jason Shaya is a much better play by play guy when he’s by himself.  He was very distracted last night with former Checkers coach Derek Wilkinson in the booth with him.  Instead of Wilkinson adding color, the two of them tended to ramble and talk to each other while action was going on instead of following the play.  While their dialog was interesting, it wasn’t pertinent to the game.  A lot seemed to be missed for those of us listening at home.
  • Congratulations are in order to Mike McKenzie on his first AHL goal.  Unfortunately, he was taken out of the game by a nasty elbow.  Here’s hoping he’s okay and has a speedy recovery.
  • With Zach Boychuck’s two goals and assist, he was named one of the AHL’s three stars of the night for March 22.
  • The NHL Flyers have quite the reputation for dirty play on the ice, and it seems that their AHL club follows in those footsteps, but maybe that has to do with former Flyer and big time fighter Riley Cote being one of the assistant coaches.

 

  • Looking at the gamesheet from last night, the Phantoms took 60 minutes worth of penalties for fighting, unsportsmanlike conduct for elbowing Mike McKenzie (and taking him out of the game) and an “Intent to Injure” game misconduct, which I understand was a cross check to the face.   That 60 minute figure doesn’t include the “regular” penalties for hooking, tripping, etc.  Tack on another 22 PIM’s and you reach the Phantoms total of 82 minutes last night.
  • I’m anxious to see what the AHL does as far as penalties to Oliver Lauridsen.  Last night was Lauridsen’s second professional game after completing three years at St. Cloud State in the NCAA, and he doled out a pretty nasty elbow.  In light of continued attention being drawn to head shots, I hope this elbow doesn’t go unnoticed, regardless of Lauridsen’s youth and inexperience.

The one about summer jobs

I realize there are many more important things to talk about regarding Checkers hockey than summer jobs, but after watching Justin Pogge fall apart on Saturday night, and Mike Murphy get injured on Sunday, my hockey nerves are a bit shot and I’m having a hard time concentrating on the real life trials and tribulations facing our team.  The light at the end of the tunnel is that goaltender Bobby Goepfert arrived in Charlotte last night from Florida.  Goepfert is especially amusing on twitter, and has made me a lover of Jeopardy (Or, Goepardy, as we call it now) and a hater of the reigning champion Tom.  If you are on twitter, you’ve got to follow @geffman47.  You won’t be disappointed!

As of yet, the AHL hasn’t reported this as an official transaction so I hope that his arrival in Charlotte was more precautionary than anything else, but if he gets to stay for awhile, I hope more Checkers fans will get to experience his unique (and awesome!) personality.

Arriving with Goepfert in Charlotte is another Everblade, Cedric Lalonde-McNicoll.  I assume he is a safety net for ailing forward Oskar Osala.  Since Jared Staal has not played since being assigned to Charlotte by the Hurricanes, I assume he will continue to watch games from the press box as he has been all month.

So I’ve been thinking… what if our own Charlotte Checkers players had to get summer jobs like the ones I had when I was their age.  I, personally, spent my college summers either working at a fantastic summer camp in the mountains of North Carolina, or sweating in the NC humidity on an outdoor stage at Carowinds.  I can assure you, summer camp > theme park employment!

So what if the guys had to get a summer job?  Some are easier to “find” for them than others… so without further adieu, my suggestions for summer employment.

Justin Pogge already has the beginnings of a modeling portfolio, so CLEARLY he should move to NY or LA and get on continuing that journey to being a covergirl… err… I mean coverboy.  Or maybe in Penticton there is a big market for goalies-turned-models.  I was in the vicinity of Penticton last summer, and it didn’t seem to be overrun with models, so it might be a good fit… you know, less competition and all that.

Netminder Mike Murphy has quite the appreciation for animals, which is obvious to all of us who follow him on twitter.  While initially the focus of his tweets seemed to be on monkeys, he seems to have moved on to other animals as well.  So maybe he should become a zookeeper?  If he wants to stay in North Carolina, maybe the zoo in Ashboro is looking for a summer intern.  Anyone have connections?  Just be careful, Murph… Monkeys are known to throw poo….

Alternate Captain Nicolas Blanchard has a fantastic smile, and one that at first glance, you’d never know he’s missing teeth on the top and bottom (as his teammates have shared in interviews).  While I’m not sure he should become a spokesperson for a dentist, he’d be great for a company that makes denture adhesive… I think it’s unfortunate that all of those poly-grip ads are full of unattractive blue hairs.  Heck, if Blanch was smiling at me from TV talking about the benefits of a product, I might have to buy some myself!

Defenseman Zack Fitzgerald should of course intern as a tattoo artist.   At a recent skate with the Checkers, he was drawing a pretty awesome skull and crossbones tattoo in sharpie on a young boy’s arm.  I figure, he trades in that Sharpie for a needle and ink, and there’s no telling what kind of damage he could do!

Rookie Michal Jordan has quite the career ahead of him as an “As seen on TV” salesman/infomercial actor.  All I know is his believable pitch of the Pasta Boat and Right-Fit Button made me want to go out and get myself a set of them!  I have a few connections in the theater business if he wants to explore some acting classes over the summer…

Who else has some summer job ideas for our Checkers?

Feel free to submit suggestions, and maybe we’ll see a part two of this post!

The one about WBS and a battle of two goaltenders in CLT

Let me preface this by saying I began writing this before last night’s game against Syracuse.  It was an abysmal performance.  Pogge was nothing close to stellar, and got pulled after two periods when the score was 6-1.    Murphy had a perfect third period, stopping all seven shots, but that wasn’t enough for a comeback for the Checkers who were down by five.  This was Pogge’s seventh removal from a game, forcing once again, Murph to come in cold for the final period.  I don’t even want to talk about that game.  It was disgusting!

The Checkers record against the Penguins is less than stellar, at 1-4-1.  After today’s game, the teams meet once more, also in Wilkes-Barre, next month.  Mike Murphy’s lone start came in October in Charlotte, and resulted in a 4-3 loss.  He had ice time in two other games in January.  The first came in Charlotte on January 4 when starter Justin Pogge appeared to just give up in the fourth period and the team pulled him with nine minutes to go.  (I not-so-fondly remember that game.  It was a turning point in my observation of the Charlotte netminders, and the unequal treatment they were getting regarding starts.  Despite Pogge having a terrible game and Murphy being strong in relief, the team played him again the following evening, which resulted in a shoot-out loss).

Later in January on the 26th, Pogge was pulled again while facing the Penguins on the road.  The team didn’t take their time waiting for a meltdown for him, and after allowing four goals on 14 shots, Murphy came into the game in relief during the first period, and allowed only two goals on 29 shots in the remaining 44 minutes.  Despite Murphy’s strong play and a hard rally by the skaters who scored three goals once Murphy was put in net, he took the loss for the team.

The Checkers lone win against Wilkes-Barre came in a rather dramatic 9-5 win on January 23.  The two teams were awarded 74 PIMs, Pogge getting four of his own for roughing.  He seems to play well when he gets riled up.

Strictly by the numbers, Pogge’s record against the Penguins is 1-2-1.  Murphy is 0-2.  But as I often like to point out, these numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Murphy only has one actual start, but has 111:20 of ice time, nearly two full games.  Pogge, who has started five times against WBS, has 248:19 on the ice.   And the goals allowed average and save percentage of Pogge is quite abysmal.  So when you think about who has the better record against the Penguins, is there really a definitive answer?  Despite the fact Pogge has helped the team gain three points versus the Penguins, I’m not sure I can give him the stamp of approval as the better record holder.

After last night’s performance (or complete lack there of) in Syracuse, if Pogge gets the start tonight in Wilkes-Barre, yours truly is going to be one irate Checkers fan.  Play like that should NEVER be rewarded with a back to back start.  Tonight’s game is a crucial one.  Charlotte has got to figure out a way to beat the Penguins on a more regular basis, especially since there’s a very good chance they will be our first-round playoff matchup.  I truly believe that Murph is our best shot at a win, if he’s given a fair shot, and by a fair shot, I mean actually getting the start and having the skaters play in front of him the way I know that they can.

Lets go Checkers!

The one about fan participation

I’ve said it once, and I’m sure I will say it again, but I love the fact that fans are not only allowed to express their feelings at a hockey game, it’s encouraged.  Between the (usually ineffective) goalie taunts, screaming “Ref You Suck” and fans holding signs expressing pleasure and often displeasure in plays on the ice or calls by the officials, hockey is full of fan participation.

I work in the theater business, and I see a lot of really good and a lot of really bad performances.  Lately, it seems there have been more of the latter.  I’ve thought about how in theater history, in the era of Shakespeare, for example, the groundlings, who were the audience members standing in front of the stage, would cheer and boo and even throw things at the actors onstage.  While I do not condone throwing anything on the ice, or even banging on the glass (one of the WORST habits that is condoned and encouraged at Checkers games!), I do think that yelling and taunting adds to the experience. And just as these reactions make a game more fun, I think it could make theater more fun, too.

There are MANY theater performances I wish had booing or taunting, in the hopes it would make them end faster!   I wonder how the management at my theater would feel if we had a sponsor donate posterboard for audience members to make signs for the actors, singers and dancers on stage?  What about a sign that says “Hey, Trumpet section, are you DEAF?” or maybe even better, “Hey Trumpet, YOU BLOW!” after they hit some particularly bad notes (and I can assure you, they do!) just like a “Hey Ref, are you blind” sign that one might see at a game.

I love making signs.  The funnier the better, though I keep mine clean.  I’ve been thinking about all of the possible inappropriate signs I could make at a Checkers game.   I remember when John Grahame was a goaltender in Raleigh (he’s in the AHL again, this time with the Lake Erie Monsters), he used to get lots of crazy signs from fans that put their phone number in huge writing for him to see.   And you know, Checkers netminder Justin Pogge and Grahame have something in common in that both have NASCAR-themed masks, and I believe both have scantily clad women painted on them.  Interesting similarity, I think.

But seriously, what is it about girls making signs for  Pogge, offering a variety of favors, or asking for his phone number?  Maybe it’s because they’ve seen the ad campaign he did for Bootlegger Jeans a few years ago?  A friend and I were joking about all of the possible signs girls could make for him… “I want to score with Pogge,” and other not-so-PG variations.  I can assure you, I will not be doing anything like that any time soon!

The one where we talk about the goaltending crisis

I know a lot of fans, like myself, like to play the armchair coach role.  We have favorite players and want them to succeed.  I, personally, have about four or five I would consider my own personal starting lineup, but I digress.

Despite how much I might love Jacob Micflikier, or Mike Murphy, or Chris Terry, I love the team.  I love the Charlotte Checkers, and I want them to go far in the playoffs, which aren’t far away at all.  So if one of  “my” guys isn’t doing well, then yes, for the success of the team, I’d prefer them to be benched in favor of the more productive players.

Right now, we are in the midst of what I fear will become a goaltending crisis.  We’ve got two guys who have shared nearly the same number of starts, but come playoffs, is that going to fly?  Do we keep rotating the goaltenders each night as we do now?  That doesn’t usually work so well in a playoff setting.

With the future in mind, do we continue this not-quite-equal shared goalie starting business, or do we pick a “real” starter?  Do we think about the future of the Hurricane’s organization (Pogge is in the final year of his contract, and is a UFA) or do we look to the future and Mike Murphy (he’s in the second year of his three-year entry level deal).  There are a lot of variables, and the way the team has split the goaltending duties up this year does not make for an easy choice by the coaching staff.

If the playoffs started today, we would be meeting the Hershey Bears in the first round.  The Bears have a stellar playoff

Justin Pogge

record.  They’ve won countless Calder Cups in recent years, and are clearly a force to be feared in the playoffs.  They’ve won the Calder Cup in three of the past five seasons, and played in the finals four of those five years.  Our games against this likely first-round opponent have been quite dramatic.  Pogge has been pulled/thrown out of two games (one resulted in 22 PIMs by a goaltender.  Impressive!)  Murphy’s record against the Bears is pretty good… he’s 3-2, and those two losses both came from games he played in relief of Pogge’s antics/temper tantrums/fights etc.  Officially, Pogge is 0-1-1 against the Bears.  His single loss was a close game, and he allowed only one goal and was the third star.

After the first round, if we win, we’d play either Norfolk or Wilkes-Barre.  We have a pretty stellar record against Norfolk (7-2), and we will face them three more times, twice at home and once in Virginia.  Our record against the baby Pens isn’t as good (1-3-1),  and we face them twice more on the road.  It will be very interesting to see who gets the starts in those games.  Pogge has been pulled twice while facing the Penguins.

I’m not even going to speculate match ups beyond the second round.  The Atlantic division comes into play, which could and probably will include a team from our own East division because of the way the AHL does the playoff bracket.   The most interesting potential teams are in our own division anyway.

So I guess I just need to go back to my opening thought… how is our current path of drawing straws for who’s starting in net going to go over when playoff time rolls around.  I’d love to hear other opinions on the matter…

The one where I analyze a lot of statistics

Mike Murphy v. the Hershey Bears

 

 

I’ve spent way too much time in the past two days creating a spreadsheet.  It’s color-coded, with wins and losses.  It has the name of the winning or losing goaltender, with notes regarding whether a goalie was pulled, or in a couple of cases, thrown out by the officials for a variety of rule breaking scenarios (in case you are wondering, Justin Pogge has been pulled or thrown out six times this year.  Four of these forced removals resulted in a loss for Mike Murphy, who went in cold to replace him)

I’ve even divided out the stats regarding home vs. away, and what teams those wins and losses were against.  They are pretty startling statistics, really, and not completely conclusive, but very fascinating.

Murphy is 15-9-2, with a 2.95 GAA and .907 save percentage, which are pretty great numbers for a Rookie goaltender in the AHL. (He only played 19 full games/minutes last season, and therefore is still considered a rookie this year).

Season Team GP GA Mins Saves GAA SV% W L SOW SOL SOGA SOA SO% T SO
2010-11 Regular Season Charlotte Checkers 28 76 1548 738 2.95 0.907 15 9 1 2 3 11 0.727 0 0
2009-10 Regular Season Albany River Rats 20 52 1109 578 2.81 0.917 10 9 0 0 0 0 0.000 0 2


 

 

Pogge is 15-12-2, with a 3.04 GAA and .908 save percentage.  This is his fifth full professional season, after stints in three organizations and teams in the AHL and ECHL.  His numbers are not as good as they have been in previous seasons, and about on par with his 2006-07 rookie year, but there isn’t a significant difference statistically.

Season Team GP GA Mins Saves GAA SV% W L SOW SOL SOGA SOA SO% T SO
2010-11 Regular Season Charlotte Checkers 33 90 1778 888 3.04 0.908 15 12 1 2 6 11 0.455 0 0
2009-10 Regular Season Albany River Rats 4 8 199 103 2.41 0.928 1 0 0 2 7 10 0.300 0 0
2009-10 Regular Season San Antonio Rampage 23 57 1332 656 2.57 0.920 12 7 1 3 8 23 0.652 0 1
2008-09 Regular Season Toronto Marlies 53 142 3155 1215 2.70 0.895 26 21 3 5 21 48 0.562 0 0
2007-08 Regular Season Toronto Marlies 41 94 2415 929 2.34 0.908 26 10 0 4 12 24 0.500 0 4
2006-07 Regular Season Toronto Marlies 48 142 2812 1222 3.03 0.896 19 25 4 2 10 31 0.677 0 3


What’s interesting to me beyond these basic stats are the home vs. away stats, and the idea of how getting pulled negatively affects the other goaltender’s numbers.

Justin Pogge v. Binghampton

 

For example, Murphy’s record at home is 11-4-1 (One of these losses was the result of Pogge being pulled).  Murphy’s road record is far less stellar.  He’s 5-5, but three times he has had to go in for Pogge mid-game, whether for bad play or getting game misconducts and being ejected from the contest.  While I realize statistically it’s not logical to simply take away those extra losses that Pogge started and didn’t finish, it is interesting to note that without Pogge’s play, Murphy MIGHT be 11-3-1 at home, and 5-2 on the road.

 

Pogge’s record at home has not been very good by comparison.  He’s 6-7-2, which is about average for the idea of a back-up netminder, but Pogge is not the backup.  He’s sharing the starting duties, nearly equally with Murphy.  Pogge’s record on the road is pretty phenomenal, with a 10-4 record.  Of course, if you were to give those three losses Murphy took for him, he might be 10-7, but that is still a very respectable record for away games.

 

What I don’t understand, especially after looking at all of the stats, is why one goalie is given the nod over the other.  Sure, it makes sense that Pogge starts against Norfolk when in Virginia (Despite usually being ahead of the Checkers in the standings, we have beat them all five times in their barn), but what I don’t understand are decisions like the one to start Pogge on Tuesday night over Murphy against Albany.

 

Prior to Tuesday’s game, Pogge was 1-2 against the Devils.  He’d lost on Saturday night, and once in Albany, with a single win coming in Albany last month.  Murphy, on the other hand, was only 1-0 against the team, but his play on Sunday was outstanding, and he beat the Devils when Pogge was unable to Saturday night.  It was the final game in a three-game homestand against the opponent, so wouldn’t it have made sense to start the goaltender who was actually able to win, and not the one who had lost?   It sure seems like it to me, but then again, I’ve always aligned myself with Murphy as the goalie I want to see play.  He makes me feel more confident, and I like the way he plays.  I like his focus, and the fact he doesn’t seem to get distracted by signs in the crowd, or the taunts of the away team fans.  I like that he doesn’t wander out of position, and stays in the crease.  I like him better in the shootout, and in about every situation.  I don’t wonder if he’s talking to his goalposts between plays, or mumbling gibberish under his breath during the National Anthem like Jason Labarbera did way back in the day.  So yes, I admit it, I’m a Murphy fan, and I think the numbers stand behind him, and I would have much preferred to see him on Tuesday (because I really believe we could have and should have won that game!)

 

The question is, how do we get our coaching staff to see this, and start playing the stable goalie who doesn’t act like Lance the Boil of “Rent a Goalie” fame.