The Thunder has concerned itself mostly with how to break down the roster and regroup, like waiving presumed star forward Alex Bourret on Saturday. Finally, even in a 5-2 loss Sunday to Missouri, Wichita has something to build upon.
Wichita lost but may have gained an identity. The Thunder took 42 shots and was perilously close to tying the game during a five-minute power play in the third period before the Mavericks scored one for breathing room and added an empty-netter late.
The Thunder’s hangover from a shutout defeat against Rapid City at Intrust Bank Arena on Friday was evident early, as Wichita fell into the same uninspired drollness that hampered it then.
But as the aggressors in the final two periods, the Thunder may have discovered a new approach. Its shot total was 13 more than its previous season best, and Wichita appeared plenty comfortable in a high-paced, high-volume game in spite of the result.
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“I like that we finally once got over 30 shots,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “We generated a little bit more. The second goal and the fourth goals were tough goals against us tonight. We hit the post on the power play when it was 3-2. We had the opportunities, but again it’s disappointing, obviously.”
Wichita’s worst period was the first, when it salvaged the first of Kenton Miller’s two power-play goals for a 2-1 deficit, but the Thunder’s most damaging moments came in the final two periods.
With far more energy for the second period, Wichita appeared poised to tie the score with a high output of shots in the early minutes.
None of those chances was converted, though, and Missouri created space by scoring on a goal that wasn’t the result of a shift in the tempo. Andrew Courtney grabbed a loose puck and weaved toward goaltender Tyler Bunz before pushing a shot past him.
In the third, Miller scored again near the middle of a five-minute power play, and Wichita continued pushing after that, getting plenty of shots to the net and at least one off the post.
No shot got any farther than that, though, and Missouri once again turned its survival of a dangerous situation into a greater opportunity, scoring soon after Wichita’s power play to take a two-goal lead.
“We came so close to tying the game,” Miller said. “It’s the difference between 5-2 and going into overtime right now.”
The Thunder hasn’t scored an even-strength goal since the first period of a loss against Tulsa on Nov. 2, which was followed by the Rapid City shutout and two power-play goals on Sunday.
Though it may not have converted, Wichita seemed to discover on Sunday that the same concepts that work on power plays – moving the puck, getting everyone involved, taking shots even when there’s not a clear lane to put pressure on the defense – also work during even strength chances.
Wichita played most of its first six games conservatively, ending up with around 25 shots taken and a similar number allowed. With heavy-shooting defenseman Kirill Tulupov added to the lineup on Sunday, the Thunder looks comfortable with the idea of playing more offense-oriented games.
“There for a few games we were just giving the puck away all the time,” McClelland said. “We were giving the puck away earlier in the game until we settled down in the second period and the third period. We’ve got to make stronger plays. We’ve got to take pucks deep into the offensive zone. We’re turning the puck over inside the blue lines too many times.”
Scoring—1. Missouri, Hynes (Thinel), 8:34; 2. Missouri, Tochkin (unassisted), 10:23; 3. Wichita, Miller PP (Lowe, Gauthier), 16:45. Penalties—Wichita, Lizon (high sticking), 9:25; Missouri, Sparks (tripping), 9:36; Missouri, Courtney (holding), 13:55; Missouri, Lepkowski (tripping), 15:42.
Scoring—4. Missouri, Courtney (Sparks, Griggs), 11:23. Penalties—Missouri, Thinel (slashing), 7:13; Missouri, Lepkowski (roughing), 8:35; Wichita, Flath (roughing), 8:35; Missouri, Vossen (holding), 13:57; Wichita, Schultz (diving), 13:57; Missouri, Thinel (unsportsmanlike conduct), 17:18; Wichita, Milan (unsportsmanlike conduct), 17:18; Wichita, Peckham (unsportsmanlike conduct, misconduct), 17:18; Wichita, Walker (cross checking), 17:18.
Scoring—5. Wichita, Miller PP (Tulupov, Peckham), 12:08; 6. Missouri, Vossen (Crane), 18:18; 7. Missouri, Vossen empty-net (Brown), 18:37. Penalties—Missouri, Langdon (illegal check to head match penalty), 12:08.
Power play—Missouri 0-2, Wichita 2-6. Shots—Missouri 9-12-7—28, Wichita 10-16-16—42. Saves—Missouri, Griggs 40-42; Wichita, Bunz 23-27.