Quad-City Mallards head coach Phil Axtell admits it's still a work in progress, but the current product is yielding positive results.
The Mallards edged the Indy Fuel 4-3 in a shootout Friday night at the TaxSlayer Center, grabbing their third straight win after a 1-3-0 start. The Mallards remain tied with Kansas City for third place in the ECHL's Central Division, one point back of leaders Kalamazoo and Toledo. The Mallards hit the road to face Fort Wayne tonight.
"I'm seeing steps. I wouldn't say we're playing good hockey, but we're playing better hockey," Axtell said. "We've got a ways to go to get to good, but we're taking steps, and that's what I keep telling them. As long as we're taking steps and working hard, I'll be happy."
Tristan King and Justin Kovacs both scored in the shootout while Ivan Kulbakov stopped both Indy chances. It's the third straight time the Mallards have needed extra time to grab the win and the second shootout win in the last three games.
King has two shootout goals, and Kulbakov has stopped all five shots he's seen in the shootout this season.
"I think that everybody is really coming together lately, and that's the biggest thing as a team," King said. "Starting out at the beginning of the year, everybody's new. ... It took us a little bit to get things going, but now we're on a bit of a roll here, and I think everybody's doing their job and buying in."
Sam Warning got the scoring started just two minutes, 30 seconds into the game, taking a feed on the power play from Justin Kovacs and weaving past Fuel defenders to beat Marcoux for his sixth goal of the season.
Nick Bligh tied the game up just over two minutes later, beating Kulbakov on the rush.
Alex Globke gave the Mallards the lead back late in the second period, tipping a shot from Kyle Bigos past Marcoux to give Quad-City a 2-1 lead, but Indy answered yet again as Matt Rupert had a wide-open net after Reed Seckel knocked into Kulbakov after getting tied up in front of the Mallards goaltender.
The Mallards fell behind 3-2 just before the end of the second when Cam Reid scored off the face off with five-tenths of a second remaining in the period.
The Mallards didn't panic.
"We came in the locker room after the second and we were all like, 'There's no way boys, there's no way we're not going to win this game,'" forward Matt Pohlkamp said. "That kind of sparked us, and we dug deep and got the win."
Pohlkamp netted the equalizer, firing a blast past Indy goaltender Etienne Marcoux at 6:28 in the third period, and though the Mallards outshot the Fuel 47-32 in the game, they had to wait until the shootout to grab the win.
A week after making 57 saves in a win over Idaho, Kulbakov was relatively untested, only asked to make 29 saves on the night, but he continues to impress his teammates.
"He's incredible," Pohlkamp said. "No doubt about it, he's been our best player."