By the time the Thunder resumes its schedule on Friday, coach Malcolm Cameron may need a nap.
Cameron was decrying the drastic changes to his schedule after the Thunder’s 5-3 loss to Utah on Saturday night at Intrust Bank Arena, and not just because it preceded the end of daylight saving time.
“This will eat at me for a whole week,” Cameron said. “I probably won’t sleep all week. I hate (losing). The one thing I want, I want the guys to hate it that much, too. I’m not a guy that’s just ‘flip the page,’ I want them to hate this. But a young team like us needs a game like this.”
Saturday’s loss snapped the Thunder’s four-game winning streak, which it reached following a season-opening defeat at home. Wichita defeated Utah with a six-goal performance on Friday but succumbed the following night to the Grizzlies’ adjustments.
Utah succeeded in slowing down the Thunder, holding Wichita to a season-low 24 shots. Utah played more physically than the Thunder and mostly eliminated the Thunder’s ability to create a faster pace and make plays with multiple passes.
Wichita (4-2) was outshot by 19, but Utah’s 43 shots were more a result of an ability to maintain control of the puck and keep Wichita from doing so than a willingness to play at the Thunder’s speed.
“They weren’t going to get into a run-and-gun race with us tonight,” Cameron said. “…So you’ve got to find other ways. You move the puck quickly before they get set up in their trap. You move pucks quickly to wear them outs. You get pucks in behind their defense to wear them out.”
The outcome was created by the Thunder’s unwillingness to take shots in its offensive zone and Utah’s superiority in doing so. Four of Utah’s goals happened from playmaking from the point, including a pair of power-play goals.
The idea was to get pucks toward the net and improve scoring chances, and Utah outmuscled the Thunder for many of those pucks and was able to shoot or redirect them in on the first chance or from a rebound.
“For us it was just being stronger in front of the net,” Thunder defenseman James Melindy said. “They scored four of their goals from just outside the crease. I think we had to be a little bit stronger in front of our net, picking up sticks instead of going over the top. It ended up costing us.
“When (goaltender Drew) Owsley is making those first two saves, that’s unbelievable, that’s all you can ask for from your goalie. But when they’re getting third shots, that’s on us.”
The Thunder’s most positive moments happened in the second period. Jack Rodewald broke a string of stagnation with his second goal of the night, and third of the weekend, to cut Utah’s lead to 3-2.
After Utah regained a two-goal lead, Wichita scored with two seconds to go in the period to make it 4-3 entering the third period, when the Thunder had outscored opponents 12-1 through five games.
The trend didn’t continue, though, as Utah scored the final period’s only goal.
“Tonight was a night where we should have been harder on the puck,” Cameron said. “We should have played with more tempo against a more fatigued hockey team. Instead we just let them lull us into sleep with bad turnovers.”
Utah 2 2 1 -- 5
Wichita 1 2 0 -- 3
Scoring—1. Wichita, Rodewald PP (Erkamps, Oslanski), 3:55; 2. Utah, Martin (Stoflet, Walsh), 5:20; 3. Utah, Higby PP (Helgesen, Stoflet), 11:32. Penalties—Utah, Banwell (delay of game), 2:24; Utah, Howe (fighting major), 6:55; Wichita, Erkamps (fighting major), 6:55; Wichita, Oslanski (hooking), 9:50; Wichita, Melindy (high-sticking), 12:21; Utah, Richart (cross-checking), 13:44; Wichita, Rodewald (slashing), 14:40.
Scoring—4. Utah, Cuddemi PP (Daly, Faragher), 5:00; 5. Wichita, Rodewald (Loiseau), 11:34; 6. Utah, Howe (Amestoy, Banwell), 17:21; 7. Wichita, G. Grant (Nelson, Marcotte), 19:58. Penalties—Wichita, Trecapelli (cross-checking), 4:26.
Scoring—8. Utah, Helgesen (Daly), 7:24. Penalties—Utah, Carrier (fighting major, removing the helmet), 7:56; Wichita, Nelson (fighting major, removing the helmet), 7:56.
Power play—Utah 2-4, Wichita 1-2. Shots—Utah 14-8-11—43, Wichita 6-11-7—24. Saves—Utah, Faragher 21-24; Wichita, Owsley 38-43.