By about the midway point of the third period, it was apparent that the Thunder’s missed scoring opportunities weren’t an offshoot of bad luck but the consequences of facing a hot goalie.
Breakaways turned away, rebounds rebuffed, slap shots slapped down —all the work of Tulsa’s Shane Madolora. Peppering him with so many shots wasn’t the approach the Thunder wanted, anyway, and all it got the team was a 4-1 defeat at Intrust Bank Arena.
Wichita’s three-game winning streak was halted, though it did plant the Thunder in eighth place in the Central Hockey League, good for the final playoff spot if the season ended today. Wichita’s next home game is on Dec. 28 following five straight road contests.
“I didn’t think we did a lot of good things tonight,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “I thought we got into a pond hockey game. We’re a team that doesn’t have as much skill as (Tulsa), obviously. We can’t play that type of game, a run-and-gun.”
The Thunder seemed to be close to earning the ability to give itself the benefit of the doubt by beating second-place Missouri for three wins in a row in games it trailed or were tied in the third period, including two on the road.
Wichita had that luxury early in the season, coming off of two straight appearances in the CHL finals, but lost it somewhere on the way to losing its first eight home games. The more recent stretch allows the Thunder to not view every problem within a game as part of a big-picture issue.
That doesn’t mean Wichita can shrug off losses, though, even defeats in which the opponent had more to do with the outcome. Madolora was effective, but it wasn’t evident he was the major difference until the third because the Thunder had plenty of chances to slow him down before then.
The Thunder didn’t manage a shot on net on a breakaway in the opening seconds. Shots occasionally clanked off the post, and hustle plays on rebounds turned into easier saves than they should have been. Such near misses require misfortune, but inefficiency is also part of the formula.
“You want to make sure, especially at home, with what our record is at home right now, you want to keep improving and improving and not making excuses,” McClelland said. “That game was very winnable tonight, we just didn’t do enough. Certain guys are going and other guys aren’t. Everybody’s got to be united, working in the same direction.”
The mismatch in showed up most in plus-minus ratings. Three of Wichita’s most effective scorers — Jon Booras, Matt Robinson and Ian Lowe, were on the ice for all of Wichita’s goals, as was captain and defensive stalwart Andrew Martens.
Tulsa’s lines were more balanced, matching playmakers with pure scorers in interchangeable sets. Ryan Menei notched three assists on goals by three different players. Ben Gordon, Tulsa’s second-leading goal-scorer, got the go-ahead goal in the second.
“They’ve got real skilled forwards and they’ve got (defensemen) who stay home and do their job,” McClelland said. “They simplify it, and when they get the opportunity to jump into play, like on the third goal when (Scott) Macaulay jumped up, they do it. They played a smart game, a quiet game.”
Thunder goalie David Brown would have at least come close to matching Madolora if Tulsa had similarly struck out on scoring chances. Brown had excellent positioning throughout the night, frequently displaying his glove-save skills, but defensive or puck-handling breakdowns put him in too many precarious circumstances.
A first-period Thunder turnover created a 2-on-1 break that Kyle Bochek converted, though Wichita tied it 1-1 later in the first. The game-winner came on a breakaway that Gordon, with 29 points in 20 games, doesn’t often miss.
“It’s tough for goalies, at any level … when they’ve got good shooters,” McClelland said. “Every team has good shooters, and it’s very tough. We shouldn’t have made those breakdowns to put ourselves in that position, though.”
Scoring—1. Tulsa, Bochek (Menei, Pleskach), 5:48; 2. Wichita, Lizon (J. Wilson, Walker), 6:18. Penalties—Tulsa, Gordon (boarding), 10:00.
Scoring—3. Tulsa, Gordon (Macaulay, Menei), 8:20; 4. Tulsa, Macaulay (Bochek, Menei), 16:16. Penalties—Wichita, Donaghy (hooking), 18:07; Tulsa, Pleskach (hooking), 19:08; Wichita, Lowe (holding), 19:08.
Scoring—5. Beausoleil empty-net (Robinson), 18:55.
Power play—Tulsa 0-1, Wichita 0-1. Shots—Tulsa 5-13-6—25, Wichita 12-13-8—33. Saves—Tulsa, Madolora 32-33; Wichita, Brown 20-23.