The Wichita Thunder will begin the grueling month of March without one of its top players, A.J. Gale, and coach Kevin McClelland.
Gale is out at least a week with an undisclosed injury, and McClelland will miss the next three games while he tends to a family matter, general manager Joel Lomurno said Monday.
So an already challenging month, which includes 14 games in 27 days against tough competition, becomes even more difficult for the Thunder (26-20-6), which has lost four in a row.
The Thunder plays host to Colorado (33-18-3) tonight, followed by games at Rapid City (33-19-4) on Friday and Saturday.
"I don't think it's a bad thing, playing good teams right before the playoffs," team captain Daniel Tetrault said. "We just have to work hard, stay focused and elevate our game to a higher level."
For that to happen, the Thunder needs to solve its defensive issues. During the four-game losing streak, Wichita has been outscored 22-13. Tetrault said the shortcomings are a "team thing."
"It's not only the D-men and the goaltenders, but the forwards also," he said. "We can score at will, but we need to tighten it up defensively. We've been working on it in practice and even doing some video. Hopefully, it helps.
"We don't allow many shots, but the ones we do are really good ones. That's what we have to limit. We give up odd-man rushes and leave guys alone in front of the net, and that can't happen. And I think the goalies would admit that when they make the big save, it helps out everyone."
Gale, one of six players to play in all 52 games, has 23 goals and 57 points.
"Obviously, we lose a lot of scoring and some speed," assistant coach Jason Duda said. "He'll be tough to replace, but we'll juggle the lines and do our best."
Notes — The Thunder is 2-1-1 against Colorado.... Special teams could be key tonight: Colorado is 9 of 17 on the power play in the series. "We have to stay out of the box," Tetrault said. "Their power play has been deadly against us."... Goalie Marc-Antoine Gelinas, tonight's likely starter, is 2-0-1 with a 3.97 goals-against average against Colorado.