Stiff test for Thunder D
Only a week ago, the Thunder's game against Colorado seemed like a colossal mismatch. Now there is, at the very least, some intrigue to the game at Intrust Bank Arena.
Make no mistake, a Thunder victory would still be an upset, but, thanks to an unexpected three-game winning streak, two hot goaltenders and a stingy defense, it doesn't seem unimaginable.
The game features the Thunder's defense, which has been one of the Central Hockey League's best in recent weeks, against Colorado's high-powered offense.
During the winning streak, the Thunder (7-32-3) has allowed eight goals; in the past 15 games, Wichita is allowing just 2.47 goals. Scott Campbell, the winner in the past three games, is the CHL's goalie of the week. Ian Keserich has an impressive .928 save percentage.
Colorado leads the league in offense (4.35 goals per game) and boasts the league's top scorers: Kevin Ulanski with 72 points (not including Tuesday's game) and Riley Nelson with 64. Adding to the challenge, Aaron Schneekloth is the CHL's highest scoring defenseman with 44.
The trio has burned the Thunder this season. In four games, all Colorado victories, Ulanski has eight points, Nelson seven and Schneekloth six.
"They score against us, but they've been scoring against everybody else, too," Thunder interim coach Jason Duda said. "They've got a lot of good hockey players. You can't shut them down completely, but you've got to limit their opportunities.
"You give guys like Nelson, Ulanski and (Ryan) Tobler opportunity after opportunity and they'll end up burning you and burning you pretty bad."
* Forward Neil Clark had 21 goals, 36 points and 160 penalty minutes last year for Bossier-Shreveport _ success the Thunder hopes he can find again in Wichita. The 6-foot-2 Clark had six points in 26 games when he was traded to Wichita for defenseman Jim Jorgensen this week. "We're looking for him to do what he usually does _ finish checks, get to the net, bang some ugly goals," Duda said. "This year has been tough for him, but this is a new start."
* Ryan Campbell (shoulder) isn't expected back until the end of February, Duda said.
* The Thunder hasn't had a four-game winning streak since late in the 2005-06 season, when the team won its last five games.
Centerman Paul Kelly had seven points in the three victories. He has 11 points in 11 games since joining the Thunder.
The Thunder is 0-9-2 against its next two opponents, Colorado (0-3-1) and Missouri (0-6-1) on Friday.
TAP OF THE STICK
Campbell saved 108 of 116 shots (.931 save percentage) and had a 2.58 goals-against average during the winning streak.
Number of combined majors for the Thunder and Colorado.
DEFINING DIGIT II
Number of consecutive home losses, a CHL record, for the Thunder.
HE SAID IT
"It feels pretty good. We knew we were getting closer by bringing in new guys and the way we've been working. It finally fell together for us. Unfortunately, it took some time to get things switched up around here. If making changes and correcting everything during the season was easy, everybody would do it."
_ Duda on the team's three-game winning streak, longest of the season