CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Charlotte Checkers will play host to the Providence Bruins Thursday and Friday at Bojangles Coliseum. This will be the first time the Bruins will come to Charlotte this season. The Checkers have faced the Bruins three previous times already this season, each time in Providence. Charlotte has lost all three games against the Bruins this season (2-1 on Oct 28, 5-2 on Nov. 11, and 5-3 on Nov. 13).
As of now, the Bruins sit in second place in the Atlantic Division with a record of 16-4-4-2 with 38 points. The Checkers have a record of 12-11-2-1 with 27 points. That places Charlotte sixth in the division, with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms holding the tiebreaker with both teams at 27 points.
Providence Players to Watch
It goes without saying that the number one guy that Checkers fans need to keep an eye on is the Bruins’ leading scorer Vinni Lettieri. Lettieri leads the Bruins with 24 points on the season with 11 goals and 13 assists. The Excelsior, Minnesota native has four points in his last five games played. Lettieri got an assist in the first game these two teams played each other back on October 28th in Providence. He would follow that performance up with another assist in the game on Nov. 11, another primary assist. Also, in the last game the Checkers faced the Bruins, Lettieri would get the first goal of the game for the Bruins. So far this season, Lettieri has three points in three games against the Checkers.
If the Checkers want to have a shot to slow the Bruins down, they need to keep Lettieri off the scoresheet along with limiting chances for his teammates as well. That could be a tall order for a team who has lost five straight games.
Switching over the defensive side of the ice for the Bruins, Checkers fans will remember this guy when the team was affiliated with the Carolina Hurricanes. It would be a former defenseman, Connor Carrick. Carrick on the season is fifth in scoring for the Bruins. Currently, he has accumulated 15 points in 21 games. He’s notched two goals and 13 assists so far with a couple of assists coming against his former team from Charlotte. In the last five games, Carrick has gotten three points, with two of them being assists. He is a solid shutdown defenseman who has played in the AHL for a long time. Since 2013 he has played for a number of teams in the AHL, across almost all divisions other than the Pacific.
For the Bruins, this is a guy who they can rely on to shut down other teams’ best players while being a force on the offensive side as well. He is one guy the Checkers need to keep in check, just like Lettieri, who can support teammates on the offensive side. If they can get Carrick to make mistakes and be in the box and/or keep him off of his usual game, the Checkers have a chance to have more room in the Bruins’ defensive zone.
Finally, the last player Checkers fans need to watch on the Bruins’ side of things is goaltender Brandon Bussi. For the Bruins, Bussi is someone who is one of the key reasons why the team is second in the division swapping the lead a lot with the Hershey Bears. On the season, Bussi is 8-1-3 with a goals-against-average of 2.16, along with a .936 save percentage. In his past two games, Bussi has only given up three goals and has a .954 save percentage along with 62 saves. Bussi was in the net for both games against the Checkers back in November and collected both wins. He gave up five goals total between the two games. He got 39 saves in game one on the 11th of November and 42 on the 13th.
The Checkers, when they do face Bussi, will need to figure him out. He has been on a massive roll this season for the Bruins. If the Checkers continue to struggle like they have been since the Utica Comets game back in late November, they could possibly be in for a long night. The team needs to get to Bussi early and keep the Bruins on the back foot, if they can manage to do that, they have a shot at breaking the three-game skid against the team from Providence, Rhode Island.
Charlotte Players to Watch
It comes as no surprise that Riley Nash would be a part of the series preview as one Checkers player to watch. Nash is the current Charlotte points leader with 23 points in 26 games played. He has accumulated nine goals and 14 assists as of this writing. In the last five games, Nash has had four points with three of them being goals. The 33-year-old Consort, Alberta native is no stranger to life in the AHL. He’s spent most of his life in Charlotte with the Checkers in the AHL besides 17 games last year with the Syracuse Crunch. In those 17 games, he did finish with 18 points and 10 of them being goals.
Nash knows how to score. He has a well-rounded game and fits well into the two-way player role. This play style is what helps keeps him as the guy with the Checkers in his second stint with the team, also with a second organization. It’s not if, but when, Nash gets going in this series or just in general, then the team goes. The team seems to feed off of Nash’s play. Although, the team cannot lean on him all the time. He does need support. When he gets support, hopefully, against the Bruins, there is a good chance the Checkers take some points in the series.
In the last series preview against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the focus was on Alex Lyon, now the focus is on his counterpart in Mack Guzda. In his first professional season, the Knoxville, Tenn. native has a record of 5-3-2. He carries a goals-against-average of 2.86 and a .905 save percentage. In his last two games played he’s given up four goals with 30 saves. Although, his save percentage in those two games is .882. The .882 can be misleading the fact that the Checkers’ defense keeps the shot totals limited for opposing teams. It’s just when they score on those low-shot chances that is why the save percentage is so low.
If Guzda keeps playing the way he is and if the team in front of him can play level-headed, there is a possibility for Guzda to steal at least one game in the series for the Checkers.
Finally, just like the Bruins, if the Checkers can rely on Santtu Kinnunen to play well in this series, they have a chance to get a win against Providence. So far on the season, the Lahti, Finland native has 11 points in 24 games played. He’s accumulated one goal and ten assists in his first season in North America. The fact that he’s been playing pretty decently for the Checkers shows how good the coaching staff is to help Kinnunen grow in the North American game. In his last four games, he does only have one point, which is an assist, although his game is what’s beyond the scoresheet.
While playing with Tappara in the Finnish “Liiga”, he was known for his defensive prowess, and it shows in his game. He is a big body who can move the puck and play key roles when the Checkers need him at the time. He is a guy the team can lean on for not only this season but beyond as well. As long as he keeps playing the way he is in year one in North America, he can become a force within the organization.
The first game of the series will be at 7 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, Dec. 22nd, and at 6 p.m. EST on Friday, Dec. 23. Fans can catch the action on the Field Pass Hockey app.
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