The Thunder did everything Saturday night to keep Arizona’s top forwards from taking over like they did on Friday, but all that became obsolete were those efforts.
The plan devised by the Thunder to pressure Brandon Coccimiglio, Paul McIlveen and David Rutherford at the blue line to limit their playmaking abilities essentially worked, because those three were rarely able to rush the net.
But as has been the case for Wichita most of the hockey season, the puck seems to find the opponent’s top players, and then it finds the net.
Rutherford and Coccigmiglio each scored two points in Arizona’s 3-0 win at Intrust Bank Arena. The game was scoreless entering the third, but the Sundogs scored twice on rebounds and converted two power plays to tarnish an otherwise strong performance by Wichita goalie David Brown.
There were no blemishes on Andrew Engelage’s performance in the Arizona goalie’s shutout, as he frequently rescued the Sundogs from defensive breakdowns, for which the Thunder’s defense is rarely offered such a lifeline.
“I don’t know what it is,” Thunder forward Matt Summers said. “I can’t put words to it, it’s just little mistakes that cost us. Mental errors. It’s not like we’re running out of gas, we’re just making those little breakdowns and every breakdown we make seems to be in the net.
“It’s not hitting the post or going into the corner, it’s going into the net.”
Arizona, now second-to-last in the Central Hockey League in scoring after totaling nine goals against the Thunder the last two games, scored three unanswered third-period goals for the second straight night in Wichita.
It wasn’t all about Thunder mistakes, though. Arizona found favorable positioning for rebounds that Brown couldn’t corral, and the Sundogs delivered on a pair of power plays for the final two goals after taking the lead more than halfway through the third.
Some penalties are more difficult to avoid than others. Some, according to Thunder coach Kevin McClelland, could be prevented by players who consider the situation. Infractions by Jared Walker (tripping), and Garrett Gruenke (roughing) led to Arizona’s second and third goals.
“You’ve got to look at the penalties, too, and what they were,” McClelland said. “When we’re a fragile team, we can’t take those penalties. You face (penalties) all the time, in every game. But it’s the type of penalties, and the time of the penalties, and what the score is in the hockey game. Is it really necessary to take the penalties?”
McClelland seemed less perturbed Saturday than he was after Friday’s 6-3 loss, when he promised roster changes sooner than later and said the Thunder played with little desperation.
Those words don’t get past Wichita’s players, who have yet to turn motivation into anything tangible.
“Everyone is going to take that criticism their own way,” Summers said. “But I know, when he (says) ‘desperation,’ with where we’re at in the standings right now, we need to be playing March, desperate hockey. February hockey, desperate to get into the playoffs. We need to find that.
“I do think we have it. Tough breaks, and we’re not bearing down when we get opportunities. That’s where desperate comes from, is bearing down when you get a 2-on-1 or a breakaway, or when you’re defending. You need to be a desperate defender, too.”
Wichita has lost three straight after a three-game winning streak and leads Arizona by one point for what would be the eighth and final playoff spot. Nothing seems to be working, even smartly planned defensive schemes, so there is only one answer.
“The solution is to keep working hard and learning from mistakes,” McClelland said. “But it doesn’t seem like we learn by mistakes. It’s the will – you’ve got to want to get there, you want to get the loose pucks, you want to battle, you want to win the one-on-one battles.
“Sometimes we fall apart in that.”
Scoring — None. Penalties — Arizona, Clendenning (tripping), 3:09; Wichita, Dudas (hooking), 13:55; Arizona, Trebish (boarding), 18:51.
Scoring — None. Penalties — Wichita, Donaghy (high sticking), 1:59; Arizona, Schultz (cross checking), 6:04; Wichita, Walker (cross checking), 10:44; Arizona, Geoffroin (roughing), 18:28; Wichita, Lowe (hooking), 19:58.
Scoring — 1. Arizona, Ryd (Rutherford, Coccimiglio), 10:37; 2. Arizona, Rutherford PP (Coccimiglio, Ryd), 13:23; 3. Arizona, Baker PP (Clendenning, Cameron), 14:41. Penalties — Wichita, Flath (slashing), 8:35; Wichita, Walker (tripping), 12:31; Wichita, Gruenke (roughing), 14:00.
Power play — Arizona 2-7, Wichita 0-4. Shots — Arizona 8-8-10—26, Wichita 8-12-9—29. Saves — Arizona, Engelage 29-29; Wichita, Brown 23-26.
T — 2:29. A — 4,007.