Thank goodness the Fort Wayne Komets have been winning or Mike Embach would have been a basket case. Heading into Wednesday's game in Quad City, the veteran sniper was stuck in the longest slump of his career, going eight games without scoring a goal and notching only one in his last 15 games. Then he finally broke though with a first-period deflection.
The slump was especially frustrating because Embach has always been so reliable scoring goals during his professional career. As a Komet the last three seasons he has scored 23, 24 and 22, and he's always been good for about a point per game adding in assists. This year he has four goals and 15 points in 20 games, which isn't bad, but it's not Embach's typical production.
So what's it like for someone who has been a solid scorer throughout their career to go through a long slump? Just how much was Embach stressing out?
"Right now, the team is still successful, and obviously personally I have higher expectations for myself than what's going on," Embach said earlier in the week. "You know guys get hot and get cold, and I can get hot and score goals 10 games in a row. It's just a matter of getting it to work. I don't feel as much pressure as I probably should because the rest of the boys are picking me up, our other lines are going, everyone else is scoring.
"That's the game. It's an emotional roller coaster, highs to highs and lows to lows. You can't get too down because if I start worrying about points right now that's all I'm going to focus on."
What's amazing is it's almost like Embach predicted exactly what would happen later that week in Quad City when he broke the streak.
"I'm focusing on all the little things, finishing checks, taking pride in the penalty kill and getting to the front of the net and hopefully one goes in off my butt or my face or whatever, just something to spark it," Embach said last Sunday. "A power-play goal would be great so we can get our unit going."
That's pretty much exactly what happened as Embach tipped in a Jason Binkley blast in front for a power-play goal against Quad City goaltender C.J. Motte.
Embach said he knew the slump was serious when he was held scoreless during a Dec. 7 road game at Cincinnati. Since joining the Komets early in the 2014-15 season, the former Cyclone has destroyed Cincinnati, scoring 17 goals and 29 points in 28 games. He's even better during the games in Cincinnati's U.S. Bank Arena, where he had scored 13 goals and 21 points in his last 13 games. But on his first trip to Cincinnati this season he didn't even manage a shot on goal though the Komets won 2-0.
"That had me so rattled," Embach said. "I just have to keep going to the net and eventually it's going to go in. I'm focusing more on getting the puck myself and going to the net and just crashing. I know I'm most effective when I'm hitting and annoying people and opening up space for everyone else."
Maybe the streak simply ran out of steam as Embach had been playing better lately. Komets coach Gary Graham made a point of mentioning how well Embach was performing after Fort Wayne's 7-1 win over Orlando on Sunday. After getting three scoring chances in front the night before against Wheeling, Embach was even better against the Solar Bears, though he was again held without a point. He was playing like a sniper who was due and maybe expecting to break through.
"I'm not panicking or worrying about it, I just need it to start going in," he said. "I know the goals and everything else will take care of itself."
Maybe Embach's advantage was his experience. As a veteran, he's seen similar slumps from teammates and even been through a few shorter ones himself. The real key to breaking a slump is maintaining a good attitude, he said. Perspective can make the game either easier or harder to play, and each individual gets to choose.
"It's either that or I'm going to be frustrated with myself and that's not going to do anybody any good," he said. "The more you pressure yourself or think about it and then you worry about it and then it's all you think about it."
Though he'd been struggling, no one expected it to last all season, especially Embach who knew the slump would end. He still had confidence in his ability, and at some point in the long season, the Komets will need Embach to carry them for a few games with some goals as he's done in the past. No pun intended, but there are bigger goals to shoot for.
"I know I'm an older guy and I'm still playing because I want to win a championship, and I know my best chance to do that is here," Embach said. "It's an organization and people I trust and I have a great group of friends here and core guys that we always come back for. Whatever I have to do to help us win. While I think scoring goals and getting points is one way to help us do that, there are other little parts of the game that I know I'm good at and can help us right now until that part figures itself out."
Maybe tonight against Brampton, Embach will start another streak in the other direction.
For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at @blakesebring, at his blog tailingthekomets.com and on Facebook at Blake Sebring.