Another slow start had the Quad-City Mallards looking for answers Wednesday night.
The Mallards gave up two first-period goals en route to a 4-1 loss to the Adirondack Thunder at the TaxSlayer Center, the team’s second straight loss.
The Mallards have been outscored 17-6 in the first period this season, including 6-0 in the last two games.
“I wish I had the answer for you, but I don’t yet,” forward Brayden Low said. “I think a lot of it goes into our preparation before the games and in the days leading up to it. I think our practices have been good, I don’t know I don’t have an answer for it, and I wish I did. It’s something internally we’ve got to figure out, and we’ve got to figure it out fast.”
Adirondack took an early lead when Terrence Wallin buried a loose puck sitting on the doorstep, beating goaltender Ivan Kulbakov after Kulbakov had turned away a chance from Conor Riley six minutes, 57 seconds into the game.
The Mallards had a chance to tie the game when Josh MacDonald was tripped on a breakaway and earned a penalty shot at 17:26. The puck rolled off MacDonald’s stick on the attempt, and Adirondack goaltender Nick Riopel wasn’t tested.
It was the first penalty shot attempt for the Mallards since Matt Carey converted a chance against the Evansville IceMen on March 9, 2016.
The Mallards fell behind even more on an unlucky play late in the period. Ales Sova went down to block a shot on an odd-man rush by the Thunder, but the puck bounced right on the stick of Eric Neiley, who beat Kulbakov to give Adirondack a 2-0 lead at 18:09.
“Offensively we’re getting plenty of chances, but we need to tighten up the defensive zone,” defenseman Kyle Follmer said. “We just need to be a little harder to play against and take care of the puck a little better.”
The Mallards were outshot 35-23 in the game and are getting outshot by an average of over 10 shots per game.
“It starts in practice. Everyone, when it comes to the D-zone people, need to buy in and work,” Follmer said. “I don’t think there’s anything (head coach Phil Axtell) can do other than we need to take pride in it. It’s on the players, it’s not so much on Phil. We need to get better at getting pucks out, and there were a ton of turnovers in the D-zone that should have been out.
The players are taking the onus for the poor play to start the season, with no argument from Axtell.
“It’s up to them,” he said. “I’m giving them what other teams are doing, and we’re just not executing. It’s mental toughness.”
The Mallards got on the board early in the second period as Low broke loose for a breakaway and beat Riopel for his first goal of the season, coming shorthanded to cut the lead to 2-1 at 4:03.
But just when the Mallards looked to be gaining momentum, their defensive zone issues once again showed to be a problem as Adirondack capped a prolonged offensive zone shift with a goal from Ty Loney to go up 3-1.
James Henry added an empty net goal in the final minute of the third period.
“We’ve just got to be mentally prepared and we’ve got to execute, and we’re not executing right now,” Axtell said. “It only takes five seconds, a breakdown for them to capitalize and that’s what’s happening.”
Kulbakov made 31 saves on the night while the Mallards were 0 for 6 on the power play but did turn away all five of Adirondack’s power play chances in the game.
Mallards make roster moves: Prior to the game, the Mallards released goaltender Alex Sakellaropoulos and signed Jake Reed as emergency backup goaltender. Sakellaropoulos made one appearance with the Mallards, giving up two goals on 16 shots last week against Fort Wayne.
The move was made after the Mallards acquired goaltender Branden Komm from the Idaho Steelheads on Monday. Komm is expected to join the team prior to its Saturday game against the Indy Fuel.