Watching the Quad-City Mallards lose 4-3 to the Fort Wayne Komets Wednesday night, I kept asking myself, "What team is this?"
It certainly wasn't the team that put up six goals against Indy or beat Kalamazoo 5-4 in a shootout last week. That team moved the puck well with crisp, simple passes, went to the net, worked hard along the boards.
The team that was on the ice Wednesday didn't look like that team, and really, hasn't looked like that team much when it has been home.
On the road, the Mallards are 11-5-0 but just 4-4-2 at home. On the road, the Mallards are averaging 3.38 goals per game compared to just 2.6 at home. In the last month, the Mallards are scoring 4.22 goals per game on the road compared to 3.00 at home.
You'd expect that discrepancy to be reversed, with the Mallards scoring more goals at home than on the road. But for some reason, this team doesn't play the same way at home as it does on the road.
On the road, the Mallards seem to keep it simple and work hard, and that has worked all season. When they've done it at home, they've looked good and have won. The problem is at home, the team seems to try to make tougher plays, more flashy plays, and often it backfires, like it did Wednesday night.
It doesn't do much to linger on the Chris Francis turnover that led to the Komets' second goal, but it is an example of the greater issue facing the Mallards. That's not a play the Mallards make on the road, but for some reason at home, I've seen more of those plays, often resulting in turnovers.
Watching the Komets Wednesday, I noticed most of the time they just shot the puck and drove the net hard looking for a rebound or an opportunity. It paid off on two of the three goals, and the first was a result of getting in good position to tip a shot in.
The Komets played simple hockey for most of the game, and came out on top. When they Mallards kept it simple, they hung with Fort Wayne, but when they didn't, it cost them.
If the Mallards want to climb up the standings and avoid a first-round date with Toledo, they have to keep simplifying their game, especially at home, because they can't afford to go .500 at the iWireless Center.
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A few other thoughts
• Disappointing to see C.J. Motte give up four goals for the first time this year, but I don't think any of the goals were really on him. Motte continues to play well, he limited rebounds, was in good position and stopped some key shots. It's unfortunate that a few mistakes around him cost the team, but Motte still looked as sharp as ever. He really has been about as consistent as they come, and it will be interesting to see if he receives a call-up after the holidays.
• One of the coolest moments of the game was watching Grant Arnold celebrate his first professional goal. I initially thought Nolan LaPorte scored, but after watching Arnold jump up and into LaPorte's arms, it was pretty obvious who scored. Arnold has been a consummate grinder this season, working hard and doing whatever is asked. He has had a few chances to score, but finally was rewarded for his efforts Wednesday. It's easy to get caught up in the day to day grind of this game, but watching the emotions of the rookie was pretty cool, and a reminder of how much fun this game can be.
• It's rare, but the Mallards got out of this game without seeing a former teammate score against them. Memories of Joe Perry's hat trick last season are still fresh in my mind, and I half-expected Kyle Thomas or Kyle Follmer to repeat the feat tonight, especially Follmer with it being his first game back. Thomas did get an assist, but neither did much, and I had to actively look for them to notice them on the ice. It's a meaningless thing especially with the loss, but I'm sure Mallards fans were tired of seeing former Mallards score while wearing Fort Wayne colors.
• I was disappointed by the number of penalties in the third period. I don't know if the calls were justified or not, but the first two periods were nearly completely clean. The third period had four penalties from Mallards, three nearly in succession. The Mallards have to show more discipline late in games, because it makes a comeback that much harder when you're shorthanded for nearly a third of the period.
• Congrats to Chris Francis on scoring his 100th goal of his career. The first 93 came with other teams, but it's a significant milestone for any player, and well deserved for the new captain.