A month ago, the South Carolina Stingrays were going through so many call-ups and injuries that head coach Cail MacLean had a tough time keeping up with whom was in the lineup.
But even with as many as nine players missing, the Stingrays continued to win.
A 5-3 victory over Reading back on Jan. 23 gave the Stingrays an ECHL-best 30-9-6 mark. The depleted Stingrays were making a legitimate bid for a 50-win season.
"We were just finding ways to win," said Stingrays captain Matt Scherer. "It didn't seem to matter who was in or out of the lineup. We didn't have any passengers. Guys were stepping up and playing well and as a team we were working hard every shift. We were getting the bounces, too. There's no doubt that we were getting our share of the breaks, but I believe that was because of the effort we were giving on the ice."
That was three weeks ago.
Now, the Stingrays are mired in their worst slump in nearly two seasons -- winning just once in their last nine games. And while they still have the second-best winning percentage (.657) in the league, their once commanding lead in the South Division has dwindled to just nine points with 20 games left in the regular season.
"We just haven't played good hockey the last month," Scherer said. "We've had guys injured and called up, but we had those issues back in January and we were still winning games. We're not going to use that as an excuse. This is a developmental league, so every team is going to go through their share of injuries and call-ups. We've got the guys here to get the job done."
So what's wrong with the Stingrays?
One of the biggest issues has been the Stingrays' execution in critical situations, said MacLean.
"I think for the most part our work ethic has been good," MacLean said. "We've had bad shifts and bad periods, but for the most part our work ethic has been good enough to win. The problem has been with execution in our offensive end. We're just not scoring enough goals. Besides one game against Cincinnati, we've been holding teams to three goals most nights. You'd like to hold them to two goals, but if you're only giving up three goals a game, you should have a few more wins."
The Stingrays have scored just 21 goals in their last nine games.
"We've been in a lot of games recently, but we haven't got that one goal or that one bounce to get us a win and get us over this hump," MacLean said. "Part of our problem is that we're not winning the one-on-one battles like we were earlier in the season. That's something that's correctable. We've been stressing that in practice the last few days."
Scherer hopes that a change of scenery will help the Stingrays this weekend as they welcome Florida for a two-game series beginning tonight at the North Charleston Coliseum. The Stingrays have not had a home game since Jan. 26.
"We've had a pretty long road trip the last two weeks and I think getting back in our own building is just what we need," Scherer said. "Florida is one of our biggest rivals, so if you don't have a heartbeat for these next two games you probably don't need to be here."