The Rapid City Rush have been in this position before.
A week ago the Rush were enjoying a four game winning streak, but now find themselves in the middle of a three game slide after being swept by the Idaho Steelheads. The Rush started the season with five straight losses.
At 5-9-0-0 Rapid City begins a series tomorrow at home against the Tulsa Oilers, a team that is 0-3-1-1 in its last five games and is 5-6-2-2 on the season.
Rush coach Daniel Tetrault said it is time to move on from the Idaho series and focus on beating a Tulsa team that is on the back-end of a long road trip.
"They’ve been struggling, but there’s not easy game in this league, they’re going to play hard," Tetrault said. "They’re going to come in on the back-end of a road trip and we have to take advantage of that. One game at a time, it starts Wednesday but we have a good possibility of getting back close to .500 with three wins here. It’s a new week, a fresh week and we have to put the Idaho series out the door now and focus on Tulsa."
It's easy to understand why Tetrault would want to put the Idaho series behind him and his team. The Rush fell on Wednesday 4-3, 4-1 on Friday and 3-2 Saturday.
Saturday's loss was especially painful, as the Rush had a 2-0 lead going into the third period but couldn't come away with the two points.
"Saturday we self destructed, the first two periods was the best hockey we’ve played all year," he said. "We had a great game plan going in, the neutral zone trap was working well, they had nothing going all night until the third period the referee decided to start calling penalties against us, because of our physical play, it didn’t make any sense.
"It was a frustrating night, the guys played well but in the third period we self destructed, and we didn’t get any help from the officials. We have to stay composed when things like that happen and we have to stay focused on the game, we did not and it cost us the game."
Still, Tetrault said he was pleased with how well his team played throughout the weekend. He was also impressed with Idaho, saying that the mountain division rival is: "probably the best team we've played this year, so far."
"They’re big, they’re fast, and we were right in those games. Our record is 5-9 but that doesn’t indicate how good this team is," he said. "This is a new week, we rebounded after an 0-5 start real well, we went on a winning streak and now we’ve got a three game losing streak again, but I’m not concerned about my boys. They’re going to respond well and get another win streak going."
A key to getting back on a winning streak will be staying out of the penalty box. The Rush penalty kill has been the most successful in the ECHL this season, but Tetrault said he is starting to see the unit get overworked.
After not giving up a power play goal in 25 opportunities over five games against the Brampton Beast and Colorado Eagles, Rapid City allowed one power play goal in every game against Idaho.
The Rush have killed 90.4 percent of their penalties this year, but also had to trot that unit out onto the ice 19 times in three games against the Steelheads.
"We have to worry about our own game, I thought we played well on Saturday, we have to continue to play that way Wednesday," he said. "We have to stay disciplined, our penalty kill has been overworked here lately, they’ve done a great job though. We just have to come out hard and play the same way."
Tulsa ranks in the middle of the road or near the bottom in most ECHL categories this season. It is 18th in the league in goals scored, 21st in goals allowed, 25th in power play percentage and 20th in penalty kill percentage.
The Rush are looking to improve on their rankings of 20th in goals scored, 22nd in goals allowed and 23rd in power play percentage while maintaining the top spot in penalty kill percentage.
The series also has big implications in the mountain division standings. Since starting the season 0-5, the Rush have been in the basement of the standings, but a four game winning streak saw them inch closer and closer to getting out of last.
Now, that is within striking distance. The Rush have 10 points, while Tulsa has 14, meaning a sweep would put Rapid City in sixth place, a small but important step towards getting the Rush back into the playoff picture.
The time seems right for Rapid City, considering the Oilers are starting the back-end of a 14-game road trip.
While the Rush are playing their 9th game in 22 days as a result of multiple three games in four days series.
Tetrault said being tired isn't an excuse.
"We’ve been at home so there’s no excuses," he said. "The frustrating thing is we’ve played really well, we’re not a 5-9 team, we’re a lot better than that. It’s a long season, and these next three home games are huge against Tulsa."
The puck drops Wednesday at 7:05 p.m.