As long as there are unemployed or available professional hockey players roaming the earth, the Thunder refuses to accept its early-season fate.
Wichita reached another low point Friday, losing at home to Tulsa 7-4 in a game in which the Thunder scored the first three goals and took a lead into the third period.
Three nights after manhandling the Oilers 6-1 in Tulsa, the Thunder appeared on its way to a similar one-sided victory. But somewhere along the way, probably in the middle of the second period, Wichita lost its edge.
The Oilers scored seven of the final eight goals, including two empty-net scores to increase the pain by a couple more degrees. The Thunder has been a revolving door due to injuries and lack of production, and the roster changes aren’t stopping as long as the losing continues.
Wichita has lost nine of its last 10 and fell to a tie for eighth in the 10-team Central Hockey League.
“We’ve only got a few more guys coming back from injuries,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said of his once-depleted team slowly returning to health. “Obviously, there will be a couple new guys coming in (Saturday) and a couple guys out of here. I just can’t stand to watch it anymore.”
McClelland can look for quick or long-term fixes because he’s attempting to explain the seemingly inexplicable, how Wichita has lost six times when tied or leading in the third period.
Friday, Wichita’s downfall wasn’t as difficult to spot. The Thunder, after an energetic first period that included a pair of Andrew Martens goals, crisp playmaking and hustle plays from players who needed the confidence boost, couldn’t keep up with the Oilers over the final 30 minutes.
Wichita led 20-8 in shots about halfway through the second period before the lack of energy became evident. The Thunder couldn’t clear pucks out of its zone, so Tulsa maintained possession and cut into the shots lead so quickly that the teams were tied 23-23 after two periods.
Power plays also halted Wichita’s momentum. Tulsa scored twice with an extra man in the second period, as defensive breakdowns created a domino effect that turned Thunder goalie Taylor Nelson from impressive to ordinary.
“We’ve got opportunities to clear pucks,” McClelland said. “We’re just not strong on pucks. I don’t know. That’s a bad one.”
Tulsa had a goal disallowed because it was kicked in, but Wichita was unable to take advantage of one of its few late-game breaks. Tulsa scored seconds later to tie it 4-4, then converted the game-winner 23 seconds after that.
The waved-off goal may have been a sign of things to come, as Tulsa’s forward surged down the middle of the ice, beating several defenders before taking a pass in stride. Thunder defensemen failed to contain Tulsa late, as unguarded shots helped the Oilers take the lead and force Nelson out of the game.
“Simple plays,” McClelland said. “We get the puck, cough it up, it goes off the wall and comes back (to Tulsa). I don’t fault the goaltender at all on that. We’re not playing in front of them right now. We started out good, then we couldn’t do the things we were doing.”
McClelland said the Thunder had more to do with the outcome than Tulsa, and he’s backed up by the ease with which Wichita beat the Oilers on Tuesday. The third period, though, showed the difference between the Thunder and opponents who have found cohesion.
“It’s more than just the third period,” Martens said. “We had a 3-0 lead after the first; our second period wasn’t much better than the third. We’ve got to learn how to play 60 minutes, simple as that. The game is 60 minutes long, we’ve got to play a full 60 minutes.”
Scoring—1. Wichita, Martens PP (Beauregard, Dudas), 3:13; 2. Wichita, Flath (Beauregard, Klempa), 4:32; 3. Wichita, Martens (Klempa, McParland), 15:06. Penalties—Tulsa, Cramer (hooking), 1:59; Wichita, Beauregard (roughing), 11:35; Tulsa, Barlock (fighting major), 15:16; Wichita, Walker (fighting major), 15:16; Tulsa, Tallent (roughing double minor), 19:25; Wichita, Flath (roughing), 19:25.
Scoring—4. Tulsa, Coccimiglio (Pleskach, Bochek), 13:26; 5. Tulsa, Bochek PP (Macaulay, Coccimiglio), 15:22; 6. Wichita, McParland (Dudas, Booras), 7:43; 7. Tulsa, Beausoleil PP (Macaulay, Robinson), 19:42. Penalties—Tulsa, Bochek (slashing), 6:10; Wichita, Walker (tripping), 8:51; Wichita, Walker (hooking), 13:45; Wichita, Donaghy (tripping), 19:14.
Scoring—8. Tulsa, Robinson (Fisher, Beausoleil), 10:46; 9. Tulsa, Cramer (Macaulay, Obermeyer), 11:09; 10. Tulsa, Tallent empty-net (Madolora), 18:54; 11. Tulsa, Coccimiglio empty-net (Bochek, Cescon), 19:47. Penalties—Tulsa, Fisher (hooking), 1:08.
Power play—Tulsa 2-4, Wichita 1-4. Shots—Tulsa 8-15-8—31, Wichita 12-11-6—29. Saves—Tulsa, Mackinnon 5-8, Madolora 20-21; Wichita, Nelson 23-28, Jung 1-1.