A lackluster 5-1 loss to the Utah Grizzlies last Friday was a wake-up call for the Kansas City Mavericks, who were on a four-game slide at the time.
Since then, the Mavericks have looked like a completely different team. A lot of that could be attributed to goaltender Mason McDonald.
He returned from a lower body injury on Jan. 28 to guide Kansas City to a 4-3 victory over Utah after being out for five weeks.
On Friday, he got a lot of help from his team as he notched the Mavericks’ first shutout since Nov. 19, 2017, against the now-defunct Quad City Mallards. The defensive effort led to a 4-0 win against the South Carolina Stingrays at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.
McDonald has surrendered just five goals in three games since coming back from injury. Against South Carolina, he tallied 19 saves to improve his record to 12-2 and his goals against average to 2.44.
“I am feeling great out there,” McDonald said. “It’s fun to feed off the crowd, and I have a good defense in front of me.”
That defense deflected and stopped several shots in front of him to provide the goalie with plenty of assists, especially one player in particular, McDonald noted.
“Worms (Jared VanWormer) is just out there diving like a warrior, trying to block everything,” McDonald said. “I appreciate the guys giving an effort like that. It’s good to see.”
McDonald admitted that the shutout was on his mind late in the game.
“It something everyone thinks about and I think everyone in the arena thinks about it honestly,” McDonald said. “It’s hard to stay out of your own head sometimes and you just have to focus.”
Mavericks coach John-Scott Dickson was really upbeat when discussing the defensive effort of McDonald and the rest of the team.
“They are a team that likes to score in transition and I thought we tracked back really hard and took care of things in the back,” Dickson said. “(McDonald) has come back confident. He was with us last year, so we know a little bit about him and have a great relationship with him. We told him to take it and run away with it. Don’t let it slip away. You want to be the man, here’s your opportunity. He’s definitely taken advantage of that.”
The Mavericks took advantage of their opportunities, too, as four different players scored goals. Kansas City forward Joey Sides got a pass from Mark Cooper from the crease and he buried a shot from the left wing for a power-play goal and a 1-0 lead at the 8:31 mark in the first period.
Kansas City didn’t add to the lead until the 16:53 mark of the second. Widman flew in from the far right side of the faceoff circle. He chased down a puck that Corey Durocher slapped from behind the goal line. It deflected off the right post, but Widman was there to beat Stingrays goaltender and former Maverick Parker Milner for a 2-0 edge.
Captain Rocco Carzo made it 3-0 when he buried a close-range shot after receiving a centering pass from Darian Dziurzynski with 10:33 left in regulation.
The Mavericks put the game away for good at the 14:40 mark. South Carolina pulled Milner with a little more than five minutes left. David Dziurzynski scored an empty-net goal on a shot from center line.
Durocher was a big part of the strong offensive effort as he had three assists, as he’s tallied 12 points in just 10 games.
“He’s battling, bending his knees and moving his feet,” Dickson said of Durocher. “There were a couple of shifts there where he was kind of just standing around and didn’t battle for pucks. But when you’re feeling good, that’s when you can let things slip a little bit. That’s when we should be harder on him than usual to make sure we’re not getting complacent.”
Durocher couldn’t pinpoint a specific reason for his hot streak.
“Maybe had a few lucky bounces here and there,” he said. “I am just trying to help the team. Points are nice, but it all starts in the defensive zone.”
The Mavericks (22-17-2-1), who are still hanging on the fourth place in the Mountain Division, recently got a big boost. Mark Cooper, who leads the team in points, and Mike McMurtry were reassigned to Kansas City from its American Hockey League affiliate, the Stockton Heat.
“It’s good to have Cooper back. Hopefully we’ll have him for a few games,” Dickson said.”It’s also good to have (McMurtry) back, it adds to the depth of our lineup. Now, you have to worry about all 10 forwards.”
Added Durocher: “It’s nice. We can roll three lines knowing every line can score. Every line is defensively responsible. We’re not going into games worrying if we can score enough goals.”