It’s been a long time since I had to write a playoff preview. Too long, really, but I dug back into the Chasing Checkers archives for an example of how I did in in 2011, so here you go.
The overall record:
This year, the Checkers were 4-4-0 against Oklahoma City. On the road, they were 3-1, but at home in Charlotte, the Checkers lost three of four games against the Barons, including a 7-2 blowout in November that was the beginning of the Checkers 7-game losing streak that carried into December. The road record could prove favorable with the Checkers facing the Barons for the first two games of the series in Oklahoma City, but clinching the first round back at home for the Checkers could prove to be a challenge, based on statistics alone, and a Charlotte team that at times seemed to struggle in their own building.
Of the eight games the Checkers and Barons played this season, six of them were after the NHL camps and season had begun, which removed guys like now-Oilers Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz and Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from the mix. When those four played for the Barons, the Checkers were unable to beat them. Eberle, for example, had five points (4g, 1a) in only two appearances against Charlotte.
IN THE CREASE
Yann Danis is the number one goalie for the OKC Barons. He’s got a lot of Calder Cup Playoff experience. This is his fifth trip to the playoffs, including a Calder Cup in 2007 with Hamilton (though he was not the starter for that entire playoff run, Carey Price joined the team late after his junior season and took the reigns as number one). Last year with the Barons, Danis was 8-6 in the playoffs, and started every game on the way to an eventual defeat by Toronto in the Conference Finals. The Marlies, of course, went on to the finals and lost to the Norfolk Admirals. In his career, Danis has played in 20 AHL playoff games. This season, Danis faced the Checkers four times, and was 2-2.
Niko Hovinen is the number two goalie in Oklahoma City, and has a better record against the Checkers this year. He faced them twice, winning both games.
For Charlotte, the goaltending story is a very different one. The Checkers are still carrying three goalies. John Muse faced the Barons twice this year, and lost both games with a 4.43 GAA and .829 SV%. Neither Rob Madore or Mike Murphy has played the Barons this year, though Murphy played well against a similar Barons squad last year, with a 2-1 record. If I had to put my money on who starts the series for Charlotte, it would go on rookie Rob Madore.
Colten Teubert and Alex Plante provide toughness on the blueline for the Barons, and combined for 24 PIMs against the Checkers this year, and are the top to PIM-receivers on the Barons active roster. Look to them both to stir things up against guys like Brett Bellemore, and Nicolas Blanchard when he re-joins the Checkers next week.
The Checkers defense is possibly the weakest spot on the team right now. With injuries to Michal Jordan and Marc-Andre Gragnani , and a possible need for a recall to the Hurricanes to replace Joe Corvo who missed last night’s Hurricanes game due to injury, the remaining defense corps is a bit thin. Brett Bellemore is the most experienced, and the only one with significant AHL playoff experience. In eight games against Oklahoma City this year, he only had one assist, but the 20 PIMs shows he’s not afraid to mix it up against the Barons. Justin Krueger and Rasmus Rissanen, who each completed their sophomore season with the Checkers, are the only two defensemen who spent all of the 2012-13 season with the Checkers.
Bobby Raymond found his scoring ways against the Barons, with four points (2g, 2a) in six games. Though he’s only played three games with the Checkers so far, rookie Ryan Murphy will certainly be called upon during this series.
For the Barons, center Marc Arcobello leads the team with 68 points (22g, 46a). Six of those points came during his eight games against the Checkers (4g, 2a). Due to a stacked roster prior to the end of the NHL lockout, Phillipe Cornet was part of a numbers game that kept him on the ECHL squad in California. In his 46 games with the Barons this year, Cornet has 33 points including eight points in seven games against the Checkers (4g, 4a). Rookie Toni Rajala also spent a portion of the season in the ECHL, but has 46 points in 45 games (17g, 28a). In eight games against Charlotte, he had five points (2g, 3a).
Though the Checkers did not make the post-season last year, a number of stand-outs from their 2011 playoff run remain with the team. Brett Sutter, Zac Dalpe, Chris Terry and Zach Boychuk all led the team in points during the 2011 playoff run, and continue to be the offensive leaders on the Checkers.
Dalpe, though he only faced the Barons four times this year, had six points (2g, 4a). Other Checkers who had strong performances against the Barons include Terry (3g, 5a) and Jeremy Welsh (2g, 3a).
Back in 2011, I was told by my buddy Jason over at Chirps from Center Ice, that I needed to make a prediction for each round of the playoffs…. And I’ve struggled with which way to go this round. I’m confident the Checkers can win, the question is how many games will it take.
So… because I believe it’s going to be a fiercely competitive series, I’m going to say the Checkers win in five games (and to go a step further, believe they will be the only Western first-round series that takes five games to settle!)
Who to follow on Twitter/blogs from Oklahoma City:
Chasing Checkers game-day twitter list
Let’s Go Checkers!