The Quad-City Mallards dug themselves too big a hole Friday night.
The Mallards allowed two goals in the first five minutes, and four in the first 12 in a 7-4 loss to the Cincinnati Cyclones at the TaxSlayer Center.
The loss is the seventh straight for the Mallards, matching the franchise mark for consecutive losses, which spanned from Oct. 24 to Nov. 14 in 2009, the team’s only year in the International Hockey League.
The Cyclones came out gunning right from the start, taking advantage of an early 5-on-3 opportunity. Justin Vaive scored at the 4-minute, 48-second mark, then Winston Day Chief scored 14 seconds later on the remaining 5-on-4 advantage.
Josh MacDonald cut the lead to 2-1 at 11:02 but Vaive scored two goals in the next 53 seconds to record a hat trick in the first period and give Cincinnati a 4-1 lead.
After Vaive's third goal, the Mallards pulled goaltender Eric Hartzell, who made six saves on 10 shots, and put in Matt O'Connor, who allowed three goals on 22 shots.
"I'm not going to say I was that good tonight because I wasn't, but it's as simple as turning the page," Hartzell said. "It just depends on how you approach it. I personally didn't feel extremely sharp. Goals are going to happen in hockey, whether it's one, two or three, my job is to forget about it and move onto the next one."
The early deficit wasn't all on Hartzell. Vaive's second goal came after the Mallards lost a defensive zone face-off clean, and Day Chief's goal came after Day Chief beat Chris Francis to the net.
Francis is still working on his conditioning after missing the first two months of the season with a herniated disk, and it showed Friday. He was on the ice for four goals against and despite scoring a goal finished minus-2 on the night.
"I'm probably the reason why we lost tonight. I made a couple of mistakes and I'll take the blame for this game, it's my fault," the Mallards captain said. "I haven't played since April so it's not an excuse but I've just got to keep going I guess, try to stay positive."
Francis has been producing since returning to the lineup, with five points in seven games, but his defense has been a liability so far as he's minus-5 on the season.
"All five guys on the ice have to be on the same page, and they know it," head coach Phil Axtell said. "It's execution and the grit to outwork them ... goal two, six and seven, the same individual was not mentally tough enough and didn't execute."
After falling down 5-1 on Rob De Fulviis' shorthanded goal just 22 seconds into the second period, the Mallards attempted to come back, starting with MacDonald's second goal of the game to make it 5-2 after two period.
The Mallards cut the lead to 5-4 thanks to goals from Francis and Kenney Morrison. Morrison’s goal came at 9:19 in the third period and the Mallards looked very much alive after Cincinnati goaltender Anthony Peters was called for slashing following the goal, giving Quad-City a power play.
That momentum was quickly snuffed out when Justin Danforth scored a shorthanded goal, just 55 seconds after Morrison’s goal, to push the Cyclone lead to 6-4. Of Cincinnati's seven goals, four came on special teams.
The Mallards travel to Fort Wayne tonight to take on the Komets, desperate for a win to avoid the longest losing streak in the 21 years of Mallards hockey. Though the comeback fell short, the team is hoping that grit and character can finally pay off with a win.
"Negativity is not going to get you anywhere so you have no choice but to stay positive," Hartzell said. "I think we have a really good group of guys in the locker room; we've just got to battle through it and it's never easy and it can even get tougher as the losing streak goes on but you've got to stay positive with it."