The Quad City Mallards have played 35 games and will zoom past the halfway point of the season this weekend when they play three games in three nights. They come into this weekend with a record of 17-15-1-2, and in second place in the Midwest Division.
There were really three distinct stretches for the Mallards in the first half. They started out playing around .500, going 3-3-1-2 over their first nine games. Then they played some pretty good hockey. going 12-6-0-0 over their next 18 games. This also roughly coincided with a 11 game unbeaten stretch at home, when they went 10-0-1-0 at the iWireless Center from October 24 to November 29. Since December 20 though, they have been playing badly. going 2-6-0-0 and falling out of first place. The start of this rough stretch coincided with a rash of injuries. The team has started to get healthy though here in the last few games.
The recent losing streak coincided with a big drop in offense. Not controlling the puck in the offensive zone puts extra strain on the defense and goaltending. Injuries have also hindered the offense, which was not at the top of the league even at full health. Right now the Mallards are tied for 21st in the ECHL at 2.69 goals per game.
The Mallards have two players averaging a point per game – Olivier Archambault and Matt Carey. Carey, though, has only played 12 games. Despite that, Carey leads the team with four power play goals. Archambault is tied for the team lead in goals with 10 and is second on the team with 18 assists. He has played in 28 games.
Matt Neal is the only forward that has played in all 35 games. He is tied with Archambault for the team lead with 10 goals. He also has 15 assists and leads the team in +/- at +3. Sam Warning is is third on the team with nine goals. His speed has been able to consistently create scoring chances and draw penalties. Raphael Bussieres is another bright spot. He has only played in 21 games but has eight goals and seven assists. One player that could help the offense in the second half is Brady Brassart. Brassart was recently sent down from Iowa and has played five games. He is +2 so far.
The affiliation with Iowa has been a boon for the Mallards, having Steve Michalek and Brody Hoffman assigned to the team before the season started. Both have been superb in net overall, and have only improved as the season has progressed. Hoffman and Michalek both played three seasons in the college ranks, and had nearly identical average save percentages. In fact, only 0.004% separated the two.
Now, however, 0.02% separates the average save percentages of the two. Michalek has the better average with five more games as well. Michalek has shown through his 20 games that he has better consistency during games. This past Sunday he earned his first career shutout after making 42 saves; 23 of those saves came during the third period alone.
Hoffman has been great in net also, helping to bail out a defense that has struggled at times. A goalie’s performance is affected by the performance of the skaters in front of them. And that, of course, leads into the next section.
This year, the defense has been plagued with problems. They often leave Hoffman or Michalek out to dry with their inability to chase the puck properly. The defense watches the puck and chases the puck more than they chase the guy with the puck or intercept passes; that’s not how you play good defense. Coach Terry Ruskowski has said before that the Mallards don’t have their head on a swivel like they’re supposed to, and I can’t disagree with Coach on that.
The defense likes to pinch, and while that works sometimes, it’s often led to a scoring chance or a goal against the Mallards. There have been some sparks of genius on the blueline individually, including Austin Coldwell’s game-winning overtime goal on the 29th of November for his first goal of the season, but as a corps, the performance has been less than satisfactory as of late.
Two bright spots on defense have been Mike Monfredo and Alex Gudbranson. Monfredo leads the team with 20 assists and is +1. The 20 assists is good for third among all ECHL defensemen. Gudbranson has been very steady and has played in all 35 games. He has 12 points and is +1.
The Mallards’ power play is 12th in the league at 17.7%. Their penalty kill has been excellent though, coming in at 86.9%, which is good for 3rd in the ECHL. The special teams play has helped them offset numbers that are not so great at even strength.
The Mallards have a flashed signs that they can be an excellent team. This is a team that started the season with 10 rookies so some inconsistency should be expected, especially when you add in call-ups and injuries. The Mallards were able to play through some of the injuries. Things didn’t really turn really bad until the offense really dropped off during the recent cold stretch. The lack of offense really exposed some team defensive problems. This is a team that is not going to lead the league in offense. Even at full health they could be average to slightly above average on offense. The goaltending is solid. They are going to have to play good team defense consistently if they are going to contend.
Sin Bin writer Anna Headley also contributed to this article.