March 9, 2013 - American Hockey League (AHL) - Charlotte Checkers
The Checkers' five-game home stand began with another dose of their recent late-game drama.
For the second time in as many games, the team needed extra hockey to secure a victory, this one by a 2-1 score in the shootout for a win in the first of back-to-back games against the Houston Aeros. John Muse stopped 32 shots in regulation and overtime and all four challengers in the shootout, while David Marshall scored his first goal of the season and added another in the penalty shot competition.
The overtime win in front of over 12,000 fans at Time Warner Cable Arena was the Checkers' fifth in a row dating back to Jan. 12 - a span of 22 games. It was a game typical of the season series with their South Division rivals from Houston, with four of seven meetings tied after regulation.
"We knew that coming in it was going to be a hard-fought, low-chance game," said coach Jeff Daniels. "When you play Houston, you've just got to stick with it."
"They play a really tough game and don't give up many opportunities," said Muse, who improved to 5-2-0 this season. "They wait for you to make a mistake."
The game had one of the strangest endings in recent memory, with Houston goalie John Curry, a 29-year-old veteran making his first AHL appearance of the season, suffering an injury while stopping Luke Pither's attempt in the shootout. That injury caused him to leave the game, with rookie Cody Reichard then coming in to make his first-ever AHL appearance.
Checkers captain Brett Sutter, playing his first game since returning from a three-game NHL stint with Carolina, scored on Charlotte's next attempt with a nifty backhand deke that went in off the crossbar. Muse then stopped Nick Peterson to end the game.
It was a development Daniels said he had not previously encountered.
"I've seen it where teams change goalies before the shootout," he said. "I'm sure he wasn't expecting to have to come in at that point. Give credit to Suttsy, because that was a hell of a shot he made."
"That had to be tough," said Muse. "I played against him in college and he's a good kid, but I can't imagine having to do that."
Despite officially playing zero minutes with zero shots faced, Reichard now has one shootout loss to his name at the AHL level. Depending on the severity of Curry's injury, he could be in line to get the start in Sunday afternoon's rematch.
Aside from allowing the game's first goal to Matt Kassian in the second period, a low shot from the short side, Muse put forth a strong effort to improve to 2-0-1 since Justin Peters' promotion made him the Checkers' No. 1 option. He had a particularly strong start as the Aeros jumped out to a 13-5 lead in first-period shots on goal.
"It's nice to get a string of starts to get that rhythm," said Muse. "It's a little different than practice, but you do your best to prepare."
"We saw it last year from him," said Daniels of Muse, who went 10-3-2 with a 1.81 goals-against average and .941 percentage as a rookie last season. "It's what we always say - he wins."
Marshall, a former ECHL Checker who signed a professional tryout contract with Charlotte on Wednesday, scored his team's only regulation goal when he spun from the corner and sent a shot toward goal that went off a Houston defender's skate and into the net. It was his second point (1g, 1a) in as many games since joining the team from the ECHL's Reading Royals and his first in the AHL since scoring for San Antonio on Dec. 31, 2011.
"For a guy who wasn't supposed to play after high school, it's pretty cool to see it come full circle," said Marshall, who last played for Charlotte during the 2009-10 season.
David Rutherford picked up the secondary assist on the goal, extending his point streak to four games (1g, 3a). Marshall and Rutherford are two of six players who have played for the Checkers in both the ECHL and the AHL.
Along with Houston's mid-shootout goalie change, the lucky bounce on Marshall's goal was the latest in a series of breaks that the Checkers, who have had as little luck as possible with getting experienced players into their lineup over the last several weeks, encountered throughout the game.
They also dodged a bullet in overtime when Houston missed a would-be breakaway pass by mere inches when defenseman Michal Jordan suffered an injury that prevented him from getting back to defend. Additionally, the Aeros had an apparent goal disallowed 20 seconds into the third period when a Houston player in the crease prevented Muse from diving over to attempt a rebound save.
Daniel cited Marshall's experience - the 27-year-old has played 111 regular-season games and 20 playoff games in the AHL - and strong play throughout the night as a decision to go with him in round two of the shootout.
Marshall, who then proceeded to blast a shot by Curry to give his team a 1-0 lead, admitted to some surprise.
"You're always trying to stay ready and stay mentally into the game," he said. "You're a little nervous to shoot in front of a bunch of people and in front of teammates who've never seen you shoot before."
The Checkers now conclude their season series with the Aeros at 3 p.m. Sunday before rounding out their home stand with a game against Norfolk and two against the Texas Stars, who the Checkers now trail by just one point in the South Division.