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Where Have the Mavericks Gone?

The 2021-22 season started with a bang for the Mavericks. After opening weekend, the Mavericks had a 1-1 record and led the league in penalty minutes

Where Have the Mavericks Gone?

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. – The 2021-22 season started with a bang for the Mavericks. After opening weekend, the Mavericks had a 1-1 record and led the league in penalty minutes. They played with gusto, finished checks, played as a team, and despite losing opening night, they got the job done. They continued at a .500 clip for the rest of October and part of November.

But things seemed to take a turn for the worse after a 3-1 loss in Tulsa on November 12 in a terrible performance for the Mavericks. Since then, they have been 3-6-1-1.

The team seemed so exciting to start the season. A new coaching staff, an expanded role for Tad O’Had, and a few exciting new additions to an already talented team made expectations high for this team. But now, the Mavericks are contending for last in the Mountain Division against a struggling, but improving, Allen Americans team.

What has happened to this team, a squad that some had pegged to finish first in the Mountain Division? Let’s examine what has been going wrong for Kansas City.

Gone Soft

Since October, the most apparent change in the Mavericks’ play has been a total drop-off in physicality. The changes made to the team over the offseason were clearly made to add grit and toughness to a team that had built a reputation of being soft. Things seemed changed on that front to start the season. But since Mikael Robidoux and Jesse Mychan returned from their opening weekend suspensions, the team has seemed reluctant to stand up for themselves. Loren Ulett started the season hitting everyone in sight, and now fans are lucky to see four big hits from him in a game (a low number for Ulett). The players aren’t finishing their checks, they’re letting opponents drive to the net with impunity, and they aren’t standing up for each other. Despite a stint on the injured reserve that had him sidelined, even Robidoux has been absent when it comes to performing his clearly defined role. Now, fists don’t win games; goals do. But the intangibles of being a tough team go a long way in helping to win.

What is to blame for this? Are the players refusing to put their bodies on the line for the team? Has there simply been a change of game plan? It is hard to pinpoint the root of this problem. But one thing that is for sure is that this Mavericks team was built to thrive on the space that a physical game creates. Without physicality, the team seems lost.

Poor Defense

Many people expressed apprehension when the entire D-corps from the 2020-21 season returned to the Mavericks. Bolstered by assigned defenseman Greg Moro (who has since been recalled to Stockton) and Koletrane Wilson, the Mavericks seemed to prove the naysayers wrong early on. Noah Delmas seemed to have bulked up and was playing a bigger role. Willie Corrin and Marcus Crawford were playing with more of an edge this season and driving hard to shut down play. Even Tommy Muck, an unassuming low profile player, seemed to be playing better.

But the defense has gotten sloppy and undisciplined in the last month. Rather than knocking players off the puck, they seem content with the riskier approach of using their stick as their primary weapon (which has led to an uptick in unnecessary stick penalties against the Mavericks). Things are so desperate on defense that even John Schiavo, who is a natural forward, has been utilized as a defenseman. He had an excellent game on defense, but has struggled since. What the Mavericks need is a stalwart, veteran, shutdown D-man. If changes will be happening, and they are badly needed, this should be one of the top targets for the Mavericks to acquire.

Lack of Offense

Currently, the Mavericks have a goal differential of -11. Their power play is scoring at only a 14.6% rate which puts the Mavericks at 23rd. Since November 12, they have had two games where they scored more than three goals. This lack of goal scoring is killing this team. Kansas City sits at 20th in the league in shots per game, averaging just 29.89 shots per game. The leading scorer for the team is Nick Pastujov, who has 15 points (7G, 8A) in 16 games.

Last season, the Mavericks could count on players like Brodie Reid and Giorgio Estephan to put the puck in the net, but scoring was scarce outside of the top line. This year, it seems like the Mavericks were poised to have scoring up and down the lineup. But so far, the scoring seems to be hoarded by the top line again between Pastujov, Lane Scheidl, and Darik Angeli. Other teams have picked up on this and are covering these players well and effectively shutting them down. The lack of scoring was starkly apparent in an embarrassing 5-0 loss on  Saturday night. In their annual “Teddy Bear Toss” game, the Mavericks couldn’t even score a goal to trigger the Teddy Bear Toss, and the toss had to be orchestrated at a TV timeout in the third period. A Toss of Shame.

The fact of the matter is that scoring three goals every night is not going to win a ton of games in this league. The Mavericks need to find a jolt to the scoring to get things rolling. They have decent goaltending to rely on, but they need to be doing a much better job of giving their goalies support offensively.

Ghosts of 2018-19

The last time the Mavericks made the playoffs was in 2018-19. They had a near-perfect home record that season, but they couldn’t win on the road to save their lives. This team is disturbingly emulating the ’18-19 team, though now they’ve started losing at home as well. Thanks to an exceptionally weak Mountain Division, the Mavericks managed to eek into the playoffs in 2019. The Mavericks don’t have the luxury of a weak Mountain Division this season. Idaho, Utah, and Wichita are all very strong. Tulsa has been good as well, the Allen Americans will not be sitting idly by, and the Rapid City Rush recently manhandled the Mavericks, too.

Conclusion

The Mavericks need to make some serious structural changes, and soon, if they have any hope of even making the playoffs. They need to add some goal scoring quickly. On top of adding new talent, they need to figure out how to get their power play to work. Especially in a league like the ECHL, where teams can spend up to a quarter of the game on the power play, if your team can’t get anything going on the man advantage, you will be in serious trouble. That is precisely where the Mavericks have found themselves.

Download the Field Pass Hockey app from the iTunes or Google Play stores or follow @FieldPassHockey on Twitter for the latest news on the AHL, ECHL, and SPHL throughout the 2021 season!

    Dan Stilley covers the Kansas City Mavericks for Field Pass Hockey. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHMavericks.

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