It’s difficult to get one power-play goal against Allen, which owns the second-best penalty-killing unit in the Central Hockey League — Wichita’s is statistically the best.
Sunday against the Americans, Wichita scored three such goals in one period, turning a tie game into a 4-1 Thunder victory over the CHL’s first-place team in front of 8,829 fans at Intrust Bank Arena. The win trimmed Allen’s lead over the third-place Thunder to three points; the teams meet again Tuesday in Wichita.
Even though Allen is effective on the penalty kill, the law of averages caught up to it on Sunday. Wichita was on the power-play 10 times, finally taking advantage of the extra man in the third period, when Ian Lowe, Kevin Young and Dave Inman delivered goals.
"I think in all of these games against Allen, special teams have been big," said Lowe, who leads Wichita with 10 power-play goals. "Our penalty kill has been real good, as well as power play. To get one, two, and even three goals is huge. It makes things easier, when you get a power play, to get some confidence going."
Special teams can make an important difference in a game between two evenly matched teams, and that proved to be the case on Sunday. The Americans and Wichita have similar statistics in goals scored and allowed, and goalies Torrie Jung and Allen’s Steve Silverthorn own virtually identical numbers.
Their special teams totals are also similar, but on Sunday the Thunder had two times more chances and at least that much more success. Wichita held off Allen during the Americans’ five power plays, including an important hold that carried over from the second to the third period, and cashed in some of its own.
"You’ve got to have a little confidence that you’re better than the other team," Lowe said. "Right now our power play is working, and that helps going into a game that we know if we get a power play there’s a good chance we’re going to get one."
The most decisive special teams stretch Sunday was a turning of the tables in a seemingly dangerous situation for the Thunder. Matt Summers earned a game misconduct for spearing while fighting Garrett Clarke late in the second, resulting in Summers’ ejection and a five-minute penalty.
Wichita didn’t have to endure the length of that penalty before it turned in its favor. Three Americans were penalized before the five minutes were up, giving Wichita a 4-on-3 advantage that led to Lowe’s tiebreaking goal.
Mistakes plagued the Americans in the final period as they were penalized eight times in the third and 13 overall.
"We just knew that it was important to get through that," Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said of the five-minute penalty. "I didn’t see it, but I don’t know if was a warranted call. We wanted to get through it and the big thing is we wanted to kill (the penalty) for Summers, who’s back in the dressing room."
The similarities between Allen and Wichita were evident during the first two periods, after which the score was tied 1-1. Defensemen for both teams were excelling, keeping rebound chances to a minimum and chasing down forwards to prevent breakaway or 2-on-1 opportunities.
As the teams continue to become more familiar with each other, their comparability could become even more striking. They play three times in the next two weeks and five more times overall in games that could decide the top seed in the playoffs.
"You can tell these last games, not just against Allen, but against everybody the last couple weeks, have been grind-it-out and more like playoff-type hockey," Lowe said. "These are all (close) games against Allen, and they’re tough to win. It’s good to get that and know we’re confident playing against these guys."
Scoring—1. Allen, Penner (Kerbashian, Daniels), 3:14; 2. Wichita, Painchaud (Flath, Summers), 15:18. Penalties—Allen, Ludwig (tripping), 4:19; Wichita, Lutz (elbowing), 8:28; Allen, Doyle (hooking), 11:48.
Scoring—None. Penalties—Allen, McKenzie (hooking), 2:02; Wichita, Lowe (tripping), 2:23; Allen, Deitsch (unsportsmanlike conduct), 5:17; Wichita, Summers (fighting major, spearing major, game misconduct), 19:24; Allen, Clarke (fighting major), 19:24.
Scoring—2. Wichita, Lowe PP (Young, Painchaud), 3:39; 3. Wichita, Young PP (Martens, Painchaud), 8:47; 4. Wichita, Inman PP (Flath, Donaghy), 18:32. Penalties—Allen, Ludwig (holding), 2:29; Allen, Maiani (slashing), 3:01; Allen, Pineault (holding, unsportsmanlike conduct), 6:00; Allen, Doyle (too many men bench minor), 12:29; Wichita, Inman (interference), 15:53; Wichita, Painchaud (fighting major), 17:58; Allen, Silverthorn (fighting major), 17:58; Allen, Ludwig (fighting major), 17:58; Wichita, Madden (roughing, cross checking), 19:19; Allen, Clarke (roughing), 19:19.
Power play—Allen 0 for 5, Wichita 3 for 10. Shots—Allen 6-11-9—26, Wichita 12-8-9—29. Saves—Allen, Silverthorn 25 on 29 shots; Wichita, Jung 25 on 26 shots.