Thunder coach Kevin McClelland stood at the front of the locker room after the Thunder’s 3-1 loss to Quad City on Saturday night, a position from which McClelland could see the downtrodden looks on each of his players’ faces.
McClelland waited patiently for one of them, Dave Inman, to complete an interview in an otherwise eerily quiet room, but judging by McClelland’s own dissatisfied appearance, he wasn’t waiting to give them a pep talk after a mostly uninspiring performance.
McClelland said later he engaged the team in a productive dialog to make sure the short-handed Thunder was ready to play its next six hockey games, and eight of the next nine, on the road.
"I just wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page moving forward," McClelland said. "It’s going to get tough now, too, especially going on a six-game road trip.… I just spoke my peace. We’ve been playing pretty good hockey, but you’ve got to always make sure that you’re ready for what’s to come."
There are setbacks, too. Chad Painchaud injured his leg Friday night and joined Ryan Flanigan on injured reserve. Erick Lizon, Wichita’s enforcer and at times its tone-setter, was promoted to the American Hockey League on Friday.
So a night after an emotional overtime victory over Missouri, the Thunder never sustained the energy it had Friday night. Wichita was clearly outplayed by the Mallards, giving in to Quad City’s physicality in a game in which the Thunder never had the lead.
Still, it wasn’t out of reach until Quad City scored an empty-net goal with less than 30 seconds to play. A potential rally seemed fruitless, anyway, against Neil Conway. The Quad City goalie surrendered an impressive goal to Inman in the second period but rebuffed 29 shots and was part of the reason for Wichita’s dejected outlook following the game.
"We didn’t bring our best effort tonight and it showed," Inman said. "...We kind of gave up a lead last night and we were lucky to win. We just didn’t learn our lesson from last night and it caught up to us."
Wichita lost at home for the first time in the last 10 games at Intrust Bank Arena. Wichita’s energy let down after Friday’s grueling win was evident early in a methodical first period that saw the Thunder get outshot 11-6.
The Thunder solved that part of its dampened enthusiasm in the second period, taking 18 shots to the Mallards’ four. One of them went, in, too, a deep attempt by Inman that tied it 1-1 and helped Wichita continue to play at a higher pace.
That pace is also comfortable for the Mallards, a team that produces a high volume of shots. Quad City regained the lead with a two-on-one break that Michael Stinziani put in on a rebound that bounced away from Wichita goalie Kevin Regan to create an essentially empty net.
"Second period, we were good," McClelland said. "We just had a breakdown that put that all of a sudden puts them up 2-1, and you can’t have that. After that, we didn’t really generate much and they shut us down pretty good."
Wichita carried its sense of urgency to the third period, but Quad City was also on high alert to protect its lead. The Thunder’s best chances to tie came on multiple flurries near the goal in the middle of the period, but after those weren’t converted, Wichita faced an even more dire situation.
A pair of penalties forced the Thunder to play one man short twice during the final 7 1/2 minutes. The rarity of short-handed goals in effect took four minutes off the time Wichita had to tie it. An extra man in the final minute improved those chances, but they were squandered before Quad City’s empty-net goal sealed it.
"Your first priority is making sure they don’t score when we’re a man down," Inman said. "But yeah, anytime we can get an opportunity, we’re confident we can get a goal."
Scoring — 1. Quad City, Levesque (Dixon, Aduba), 7:27. Penalties — Wichita, Lowe (cross checking), 10:26; Quad City, Hellyer (interference), 10:52; Wichita, Wight (roughing), 11:59; Quad City, Perdicaro (high sticking), 19:09.
Scoring — 2. Wichita, Inman (Reaney), 5:56; 3. Quad City, Stinziana (Perdicaro, Robinson), 16:02. Penalties — Wichita, Flath (interference), 0:41; Quad City, Perdicaro (roughing), 5:53; Wichita, Flath (slashing), 5:53; Quad City, Robinson (hooking), 6:18; Quad City, Levesque (too many men bench minor), 9:30; Quad City, Dixon (tripping), 17:11.
Scoring — 4. Quad City, Boyd empty net (Stinziani, Perdicaro), 19:35. Penalties — Quad City, Matheson (tripping), 7:12; Wichita, Young (hooking), 12:29; Wichita, Reaney (holding), 14:54.
Power play — Quad City 0 for 6, Wichita 0 for 5
Shots — Quad City 11-4-9 — 24; Wichita 6-18-6 — 30
Saves — Quad City, Conway 29 on 30 shots; Wichita, Regan 21-23
T — 2:26. A — 4,825.