Early this season, there's been no place like home for the Quad-City Mallards.
All four wins this season for the team, currently sitting at .500, have come at the TaxSlayer Center and the Mallards will hope that continues, with seven of their next eight games at home starting with Wednesday's game against the Adirondack Thunder.
It's important for the Mallards to make the most of these two early homestands because they're on the road for nine straight games from Nov. 25 to Dec. 16, enough time for plenty of movement to happen in the standings.
"We just have to take advantage of what we're more comfortable with right now," head coach Phil Axtell said. "Sleeping in our own bed, getting here early and do what we need to do to be prepared, some out and show them what we've got."
The Mallards looked to be taking some steps forward with three straight wins, only to be knocked one giant leap back with a 7-1 loss Saturday to the Fort Wayne Komets. It's the team's most lopsided defeat since a 7-1 loss to the Wichita Thunder, back in the old Central Hockey League in 2014.
"I think going into Fort Wayne, we knew they were struggling a bit but we can't make any excuses, just a team effort there. We didn't get the job done and we have to prepare any way we can," forward Josh MacDonald said. "Obviously we fell short but we try to take the little things, the positives out of the game. In the third period I thought we did a good job of moving the puck well, getting into their zone and getting on their 'D' and unfortunately we didn't do that most of the game."
Fort Wayne is always a tough place to play as the Komets have finished in the top two in attendance every year since joining the ECHL in 2013. It's an atmosphere the Mallards acknowledge makes a difference, as all their wins have been one-goal games.
"I think it's huge for the guys to hear the screaming, hear the cheers, hear the 'Let's go Mallards,'" said forward Alex Globke, who played for the Toledo Walleye last year. "At Toledo, they packed it every night but I think we have the potential to fill it ... it helps the boys on the bench, helps us get going."
The Mallards had their largest attendance since their season opener last Friday against the Indy Fuel and it resulted in a shootout win. The support has helped the Mallards overcome their issues, but they know it's ultimately on them to start playing better, regardless of the crowd size.
"We haven't had the hottest starts, particularly at home but the crowd stays in it and we appreciate that because sometimes we need a little bit of a pick-me-up on the bench," MacDonald said. "It's a whole city effort. It starts with us, obviously we need to come out stronger but the crowd definitely helps when we're struggling and they're doing a great job when we're doing well."
Battling injuries: It's early in the season but the Mallards are already dealing with some injuries. Jacob Graves is expected to return to the lineup Wednesday after missing the last five games with an upper body injury while Tristan King is expected to be back in the lineup after dealing with an illness. Defenseman Kyle Bigos is day-to-day with a lower body injury.
"We're pretty banged up but it's awesome to see the guys fight through it," Axtell said. "I think it can help but it doesn't matter who we put in, they should be able to do the job and if they can't we've got to find someone who can."
Mallards milestone: Justin Kovacs notched his 100th career point with an assist Friday night.
Thunderous start: The Wichita Thunder have had a rough go of it since making consecutive Central Hockey League finals in 2012 and 2013. Since then, the Thunder have gone 98-146-38, three of those seasons in the ECHL.
Things appear to be different this year as the Thunder are currently 8-1-0, their best start since 2011 and are tied with the Florida Everblades for best record in the league.
This week: The Mallards host a trio of games this week starting Wednesday against the Adirondack Thunder at 6:30 p.m., which is $1 beer night at the TaxSlayer Center. The Mallards have never faced the Thunder and this is the only meeting of the season between the two teams.
The Mallards then take on the Indy Fuel Saturday at 7 p.m., and Sunday at 4 p.m. Friday the Mallards are holding Military Appreciation Night, where current and former members of the military and their families can buy tickets for $10. The Mallards will also wear military-themed jerseys during the game.
Sunday there will be a postgame skate with the team.
The Mallards are 1-0-0 this year against the Fuel after winning 4-3 in a shootout last Friday.