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One step forward, too many steps back.

That’s the story of the season for the Quad-City Mallards, who, despite all their talk of turning a corner and making progress after snapping a 13-game losing streak last week, fell apart once again, losing 8-2 to the Kalamazoo Wings Friday.

The Mallards gave up four goals in the third period, failing to take advantage of one of the livelier TaxSlayer Center crowds of the season. It’s the 15th loss in 16 games for the Mallards.

“We’re not communicating enough in our own D-zone, guys are getting lost, we’re not talking and finding guys, and they had some time to make some good shots,” captain Triston Grant said. “We’ve got to be better, we’ve got to compete better in our own zone and be more interested in our own D-zone.”

The eight goals are tied for the most allowed this season by the Mallards and most allowed since an 8-7 loss to Indy on March 19 of last season.

It’s not the first time the Mallards have been embarrassed during this long season, with Friday’s loss the sixth time the team has lost by five goals or more.

At this point, any excuses the team has are wearing thin.

“Didn’t play 60 minutes. I know it’s getting old, I’m sure it’s getting old for people hearing me say that, but if we play like we did in the second period, we’re going to be competitive,” head coach Phil Axtell said. “It all started with we were executing, we were all on the same page in the D-zone with all of our systems. When you take two seconds off in a shift, another guy has to cover, and that ends up leaving someone wide open like most of their goals tonight.”

The Mallards fell behind five minutes, 24 seconds into the first period on a strange sequence. A shot from Mackenze Stewart deflected off the skate of Justin Taylor and up into the top of the Quad-City net. Nobody, including Taylor, knew where the puck was for about five seconds until Taylor finally raised his arms to celebrate the goal.

The Wings upped their lead to 3-0 before Keegan Kolesar, playing in his first game with the team since October, scored to cut the lead to 3-1 late in the first period. Kolesar took a pass from Sam Warning, made a move past defenseman Tyler Biggs and beat Michael Garteig at 18:47.

The Mallards had their chances earlier in the period — and throughout the second — to cut into the lead but missed out on several quality chances in front of the Kalamazoo net.

“We had two, three, four chances in their crease, and we can’t put it in the net,” Axtell said. “Capitalizing on 'Grade-A' scoring chances less than five feet from the net is still a battle. You have to put it in the net.”

The Mallards looked to head into the third period with the same score but gave up a goal in the final second. While on a power play, Kalamazoo’s Jimmy Mullin found the puck in a scrum in front of the goal and buried just before the horn sounded and the green light went off.

Referee Kenny Anderson emphatically signaled for a goal, giving Kalamazoo a 4-1 lead.

Mullin upped that lead to 5-1 with a goal 69 seconds into the third period before Kolesar scored his second goal of the game to cut the lead to 5-2. Kalamazoo scored the final three goals to put the game away.

The Mallards and Wings travel to Michigan now to play again at the Wings Event Center tonight at 7:05 p.m.

"After something like that, it's kind of hard to reflect right now in the heat of the moment but I saw a lack of communication. We were working hard but not working smart," said defenseman Alexander Kuqali, playing in his first game since Dec. 6 after working through an upper body injury. "We've just got to come back (Saturday), make sure we're coming back with a lot better effort than we did tonight because that's really disappointing."

Motte signs PTO with Chicago: Goaltender C.J. Motte signed a professional tryout agreement with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves Friday, his second PTO with the Wolves and third overall this season. Motte has played three games with the Wolves this season, posting a 2.30 goals against average and a .922 save percentage.

The Milwaukee Admirals loaned goaltender Jake Paterson to the Mallards and goaltender Matt O’Connor was reassigned to the Admirals. Paterson made 39 saves on 47 shots in the loss Friday.

Mallards acquire Armstrong: Prior to the game, the Mallards acquired defenseman Travis Armstrong from the Adirondack Thunder for financial considerations.

Armstrong did not put up a point in 16 games with the Thunder this season. In 15 games with the SPHL’s Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs, Armstrong scored five goals. Armstrong has played 56 career games in the ECHL over the last four seasons, scoring one goal and adding four assists with a minus-10 rating.

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Sports reporter for the Quad-City Times