The most predictable aspect of the Thunder is how unpredictable the team has become.
It’s difficult to forecast exactly when the major shifts will happen, but they seemingly always do and they seemingly always grow exponentially.
Thursday, the Thunder sandwiched one disastrous period between two sparkling ones in an 8-6 win over Missouri at Intrust Bank Arena. The goals were coming seemingly at will in the first and third, but the Thunder allowed bad bounces and mistakes to snowball in the second as a 3-0 lead slipped away.
Overall, though, Thursday’s win is progress. Wichita has won three of four after a 2-10-4 start and is putting together more positive stretches than futile ones, even though almost all stretches – good or bad – often go uninterrupted for a while.
“That’s been the thing – at the beginning of the season, we couldn’t get anything,” said Thunder forward Matt Robinson, who extended his team lead by scoring his ninth and 10th goals. “We were snake-bitten. It’s good that we’re starting to get the bounces we need to. It was a wild ride tonight, that’s for sure. We’ll take it any way we can.”
Wichita played perhaps its best period of the season in the first, scoring 34 seconds in and maintaining production and energy throughout the first 20 minutes. The Thunder gave its fans a completely different look after managing just a one-goal win over its previous 10 home games.
Passes were crisp, physicality was on display and the Thunder blended better than at any point this season after being shaken by frequent roster turnover. Then intermission came, and Wichita was transformed again.
“We came out in the first and scored and did everything right,” said defenseman Jesse Dudas, who matched Robinson’s two goals. “It was just a bad bounce in the second, and we came out flat. We died after a couple goals, but we’ve got some big-character guys in the room so we came out in the third and did what we had to do.”
Missouri in the second became an even more dynamic version of the first-period Thunder. The Mavericks matched the early goal, got within one about three minutes in, then systematically flattened the Thunder with three more scores in 74 seconds, including two in 11 seconds.
When Wichita reconvened in the dressing room, it was trailing 5-3 and looking at a coach who could have said anything. The productive first period, though, kept Kevin McClelland composed.
“Other times I might go in there and get a little vocal,” McClelland said. “Right now, the effort is there, they’re working hard. (After) the second period, I said, ‘No one wants to be a part of that, but we were a part of that.’ Sometimes you’ve just got to take a different approach, and tonight it happened to work.”
The new approach looked a lot like the old one from way back in the first period, and one goal led to the next. Wichita equaled Missouri’s five unanswered goals with equivalent precision, looking again like the playoff contender it is trying to become.
And prompting the question: What will come next?
“Consistency is the biggest thing in hockey,” Dudas said. “That’s the difference between guys here and in the NHL is consistency. We got out to a slow start this year, everyone’s down and out, but we’re starting to come around now. Our team is amazing, so look out for big things now.”
Scoring—1. Wichita, Robinson (Booras, Martens), 0:34; 2. Wichita, Summers PP (Flath, M. Wilson), 11:56; 3. Wichita, Booras (Dudas, M. Wilson), 14:43. Penalties—Missouri, Hood (interference), 9:59; Missouri, Hayes (fighting major), 9:59; Wichita, Gruenke (fighting major), 9:59.
Scoring—4. Missouri, Kell (Franzon, Pszenyczny), 0:16; 5. Missouri, Hayes (Odegaard, Oduba), 3:04; 6. Missouri, Dickson PP (King, Kell), 7:03; 7. Missouri, Pszenyczny (Kleebaum, Hood), 8:17; 8. Missouri, Castonguay (Dickson, Posa), 8:28. Penalties—Wichita, Madden (cross checking), 0:32; Wichita, Donaghy (hooking), 5:46.
Scoring—9. Wichita, Klempa PP (Summers, Martens), 7:08; 10. Wichita, Dudas (Wilson, Donaghy), 8:51; 11. Wichita, Robinson (Lowe, Booras), 10:38; 12. Wichita, Walker (Lowe, Martens), 13:24; 13. Wichita, Dudas empty-net (Klempa), 18:00; 14. Missouri, Aduba (King, Kell), 18:40. Penalties—Wichita, Dudas (high sticking), 1:26; Missouri, Odegaard (interference), 6:44; Wichita, Dudas (handling the puck), 19:48.
Power play—Missouri 1-4, Wichita 2-2. Shots—Missouri 11-19-9—39, Wichita 12-9-12—33. Saves—Missouri, Owen 25-32; Wichita, Nelson 21-24, Brown 12-15.