It's pretty obvious after two games what the early-season focus of the Quad-City Mallards needs to be.
The Mallards surrendered nine goals while getting swept last week against Fort Wayne, a disappointing start to what is expected to be another promising season under head coach Terry Ruskowski.
The fault isn't only with the defensemen. Playing good defense takes an entire team effort, and so far everyone has struggled, as just two players, forward Nolan LaPorte and defenseman Andrew Panzarella, don't have minus ratings.
"I think in the D-zone, we were scrambling around," forward Justin Kovacs said. "When you play in the D-zone a lot and you haven't really worked on the systems as much as we could have, you kind of get scrambly."
It's a fair point. With only 10 days of a training camp perhaps highlighted more by constant roster changes and the buildup to the start of the franchise's 20th season rather than the on-ice product, it was a difficult task for a team that was still figuring out who was going to be on the opening night roster.
There were some signs of improvement in Saturday's loss. The Mallards didn't give up nearly as many chances or have as many breakdowns, but it still resulted with a loss and an 0-2-0 start.
"There were still some areas we need to be clear on. Not as many blatant errors, but we still made some errors that can't happen," head coach Terry Ruskowski said. "But these mistakes, they should never happen. Somebody should have taught them at a young age not to do those things instead of them turning pro and I have to tell them."
One such mistake came in the second period of Saturday's loss to the Komets. A bad shot from the point was easily blocked and turned into a breakaway goal for Brady Vail, his second of the night and the one that put Fort Wayne up 3-1.
"If you're the last guy back, you never mess around with iffy plays," Ruskowski said. "If you've got no play, you put it in the far corner. We talked about that extensively in our video session (Tuesday). If you're the last guy, you've got to make a positive play or it's going to end up in your net, and that's what happened."
The sluggish defensive start isn't a new thing under Ruskowski. In their first two games of each season under Ruskowski, the Mallards have allowed an average of 3.90 goals per game. By the end of the season, his teams have sorted things out, with the Mallards' season goals against average under Ruskowski at 2.85 goals per game.
The addition of defenseman Mike Wilson, who played for a season under Ruskowski with Rio Grande Valley and already has some knowledge of the system, should help the turnaround continue. The Mallards also hope to take advantage of this week's opponent, as the Rapid City Rush are one of two teams to allow 10 goals through their first two games this season.
"It's a 72-game season, you've got to have a really short memory as an athlete," defenseman Alex Gudbranson said. "You look at that happening, (Fort Wayne) played two preseason games and we've just started so we're taking baby steps and of course, it wasn't pretty to watch but we can't start hitting the panic button now."
Cap is back: The Mallards' newly-minted captain, Chris Francis, returned to the team Tuesday after being away on bereavement leave last week. Francis missed the first two games of the season but is expected to make the trip to Rapid City and add another dimension to the team.
"He's a pretty quality center iceman," Ruskowski said. "He's a pretty good leader, good work ethic, he's just got to get down what we're doing system-wise. I think he'll be a really good asset for us."
Francis' return should help, especially considering Mallards forward Michael Parks is questionable for this weekend after he suffered a lower body injury during Tuesday's practice.
Players of the week: Toledo Walleye forward Kyle Bonis was named the Sher-Wood Hockey player of the week after scoring three goals and adding two assists in two games at Atlanta last week.
Indy Fuel goaltender Jake Hildebrand is the CCM goaltender of the week after going 2-0-0 with a 1.00 goals against average and a .966 save percentage in two games against Cincinnati.
This week: The Mallards travel to Rapid City to face the Rush Friday and Saturday at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. Both games start at 8:05 p.m. and Saturday's game can be heard on Fox Sports Radio 1230 AM.
The Mallards were 4-2-0 last year against the Rush and are 24-13-3 all-time. Former Mallard forward Anthony Collins is now on Rapid City.