As much as attitudes can vary with consistent results, it’s been a week of mixed emotions for the Checkers.
The team, now on a four-game losing streak that ties the longest in its three-year history, was seemingly able to live with its first loss, in which it played well but ultimately lost to the Oklahoma City Barons and their bevy of locked-out NHL talent. However, the next two games were ones to forget completely, with the team putting in somewhat minimal efforts in a rematch with the Barons and a meeting with the Rockford IceHogs, which resulted in losses of 7-2 and 5-2.
Now, they enter the final six games of their 10-game home stand coming off what they consider to be a better game, still a 4-1 loss to Rockford, which they hope will help them recapture their league-leading form from earlier in the season.
“We did some good things in our last game,” said center Riley Nash. “It’s a step in the right direction.”
“As long as we compete the way we did last game, things will turn around,” said goalie Dan Ellis.
Even coach Jeff Daniels, never one to shy away from an honest critique of his team at any given time, seemed optimistic about upcoming games against Lake Erie on Thursday and Friday.
“We’re fine,” he said. “Guys are upbeat and working hard, they’re vocal and they’re talking on and off the ice. It’s early in the season, but they understand the situation.
“Sometimes you have to look at the other team. Rockford didn’t give us a whole lot, and I thought they played two really good road games.”
Still, it’s safe to say that there was something missing from their last game compared to what the team was able to accomplish earlier in the season as it built a pre-losing-streak record of 12-3-2 to attain first place in the AHL. When their effort on Sunday put them in a position to make plays, their execution, which allowed them to become the best offensive team in the league at one point, let them down.
“The confidence obviously isn’t where it was,” said Nash.
Many players have had a hard time pointing out exactly what changed as the team went from a six-game point streak (5-0-1) that tied a team record directly into their current four-game slide. Though he hasn’t been around the team for very long, Ellis, the 32-year-old veteran with six seasons of NHL experience, had the most direct response.
“When we were playing well we were playing with a swagger, but with that swagger comes some complacency in your game,” he said.
“(Confidence) was pretty high when we were in first place, but there’s a fine line between being a top team that earns it every night and a team that gets complacent. You’ve got to keep improving, because if you don’t those other teams will catch you.”
Though one could point to a handful of reasons for the turnaround, Ellis said that it may not be a coincidence that the losing streak started against Oklahoma City.
“We were timid in that series,” said Ellis. “Once that top line started clicking, we lost our belief. They took it to us right from the start of the second game.
“After that we were on our heels, and now we’re slowly getting back on our toes.”
If there is a positive to be taken from the current slide, it’s that it’s happened early in the season with plenty of time to recover. The last time the Checkers lost four in a row at home was in April, when they dropped their last four games at Time Warner Cable Arena, which proved to be a fatal blow to their playoff chances.
“We learned last year that you can’t have these kinds of slides,” said Nash. “We want to fix this now and avoid having to go through it again later in the season.”
It's possible that the Checkers could be without the services of Justin Faulk, who Daniels called day-to-day after the defenseman was hit in the face with a puck on Sunday. Faulk, who leads the team and ranks tied for ninth in the AHL with 14 assists, did not practice with the team on Tuesday.