With the Thunder leading Tulsa by a goal midway through the third period on Friday, the outcome was shaping up to be only a moral victory for the last-place Oilers.
Instead, Wichita gave them — almost literally — the whole darn thing.
Tulsa tied it with about 10 minutes to go then took the lead with a short-handed goal after Drew Fisher took the puck on an errant pass from Kevin Young. The Oilers added a late, empty-net goal to earn a 4-2 win at Intrust Bank Arena.
For much of the night, Wichita played down to Tulsa’s level. The Oilers dictated a plodding tempo that the Thunder settled into without much of a fight. Even after a second-period goal gave Wichita the lead, it was Tulsa that became the aggressors.
Other CHL teams have been having their way with Tulsa, which entered with a league-worst 10 wins and an allowance of a cellar-dwelling 153 goals. Friday, roles were reversed as a Thunder team that had dominated Tulsa frequently this season was embarrassed in front of 6,307 fans.
"We just didn’t show up to play today, simple as that," Thunder captain Andrew Martens said. "We only got six shots (each) the first two periods. We’re a shooting team and we got away from what we do every night. We were flat, we were dead, coming into our barn with a good crowd. We laid an egg."
Nothing seemed to energize the Thunder — not forward Matt Robinson’s first goal since he rejoined the Thunder last week after a CHL stint; not the fight immediately after in which Aaron Boogaard and Tulsa’s Daniel Amesbury each landed multiple punches; not the crowd and not the Thunder’s first lead.
After Dustin Donaghy put the Thunder ahead 2-1 in the second, the calmness the Thunder exhibited to that point was magnified because Tulsa became more energized. A flurry of shots during a late-period power play didn’t produce a goal, but it put momentum back with the Oilers and had the Thunder playing tentatively.
The Thunder’s alertness wasn’t heightened, either, when it got a power-play chance with less than five minutes to go in the game. Instead of a fluid organization of the offense with the game on the line, Young’s pass came with a lack of focus that Fisher easily exploited to capture the game-winning goal.
"We need to dictate our own game," Martens said. "We’re good when we’re flying around and creating turnovers and getting pucks to the net and making plays and burying our chances. That’s what makes us a good team, and we didn’t have that tonight."
Friday’s result continued to expose apparent flaws in the Thunder’s offense. Wichita has failed to top two goals in six of the last eight games, and its scoring struggles contributed greatly to a recent 2-4 road trip.
Returning home, where Wichita had scored 21 goals in its last five games, probably should have solved the problem. So should have a matchup with Tulsa, which the Thunder outscored 19-6 in the previous three meetings.
Wichita found no cures in those dynamics, though. Robinson seemed to play with an energy unmatched by his teammates, and Kevin Regan’s mostly strong performance in goal wasn’t enough to offset the Thunder’s continuing issues with the puck.
"We had some opportunities, we’re just not bearing down," Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. "We couldn’t make a pass tonight. We had guys open, guys breaking. When we did have opportunities to shoot, we passed the puck. But we weren’t a good passing team tonight, so we should have just made sure to put everything to the net."
McClelland was direct about the Thunder’s recent woes and about how to fix them. Adding Robinson may have been just the first step.
"Something’s got to change or there’s going to be a bunch of changes," McClelland said. "We just weren’t on. We can’t play like that, it’s unacceptable."
Scoring—1. Tulsa, Gordon (Beausoleil, Menei), 1:44; 2. Wichita, Robinson PP (Reaney, Martens). Penalties—Tulsa, Gordon (tripping), 2:13; Tulsa, OKane (high sticking double minor), 5:10; Tulsa, Amesbury (fighting major), 8:20; Wichita, Boogaard (fighting major), 8:20.
Scoring—3. Wichita, Donaghy (Young, Martens). Penalties—Wichita, Reaney (roughing), 4:04; Wichita, Martens (holding), 12:55; Wichita, Inman (tripping), 17:24.
Scoring—4. Tulsa, Schafer (Fisher, Cramer), 9:18; 5. Tulsa, Fisher SH (unassisted), 15:25; 6. Tulsa, Menei emptynet (Gordon, Beausoleil), 19:28.
Power play—Tulsa 0 for 4, Wichita 1 for 4. Shots—Tulsa 4-7-11—22, Wichita 7-6-14—27. Saves—Tulsa, Madolora 25 on 27 shots; Wichita, Regan 18-21.