The Thunder operates at so many extremes that the only possible outcome is inconsistency.
Sure, Wichita scored two goals in less than two minutes Saturday night, but those didn’t outweigh the first 20 minutes, when the Thunder fell behind Allen with listless play that left coach Kevin McClelland bemoaning his team’s effort and led to Allen’s 3-2 win at Intrust Bank Arena.
The Thunder (3-5-1-1) has produced its four highest shot totals of the season in the last four games, but Wichita has one win to show for it and it hasn’t scored more than three goals in any of them.
“We’ve just got to win games,” Thunder forward Ian Lowe said. “We’ve been close a couple times here and outplayed teams, but we’ve got to score goals to win. Yeah, we can kind of take some positives out of the end of that game, we got a little bit of momentum, but it just comes down to wins and losses right now.”
Power plays doomed the Thunder on Saturday, even though Wichita and Allen both scored one extra-man goal; Wichita’s came with a 6-on-4 advantage in the final seconds.
It wasn’t the lack of productivity that hurt the Thunder, but the lack of a defined approach on special teams. Extremes have kept Wichita’s power play from blossoming — in the Thunder’s first few games, it was often too patient, making too many passes before getting the puck toward the net.
More recently, the Thunder has played with too much eagerness, playing an individual game in situations that necessitate teamwork, communication and chemistry. Wichita’s anxiousness showed on its first power play, when several shots sailed over the net or wide of it.
“We get a power play and we get some real unbelievable looks, but everyone wants to make that big hard slap shot and we miss the net like four times,” McClelland said.
Allen, meanwhile, didn’t need so many shots to take a significant lead, scoring three times on 15 shots before the third period. The Americans were credited with one power-play goal, but went ahead 2-0 as Wichita’s RG Flath was returning to the ice following the first of his three trips to the penalty box.
“We outshot them the rest of the game, 26-9 in the last two periods,” McClelland said. “I just need more guys going. It seems like it’s the guys who have been here for a while, sometimes you have to cut the fat, bring in some new enthusiasm. You can’t have guys not staying focused and taking three and four penalties a night. That’s not bringing nothing to the hockey club.”
Those goals were preventable, according to McClelland, if the Thunder’s defensemen had raced toward the rebounds as quickly as Allen’s forwards did, an element missing from Wichita’s own opportunities.
“Power plays can win you a lot of games,” McClelland said. “Obviously it’s not winning us a lot of games right now, and it’s going to lose you a lot of games. That’s where we’re at right now, and we’ve got to get some timely goals on that. It’s nothing to do other than the effort.”
Allen scored with 35 seconds to go in the second period to make it 3-0 and reach the Thunder’s tipping point. Wichita has topped three goals twice this season and hasn’t scored more than three in any of the last six games.
The Americans seemed to recognize that as they barely attacked in the third period, taking two shots. Wichita took advantage by controlling the puck and finishing with a 32-17 overall edge in shots, but failing to produce before the final two minutes.
“It just comes to wins and losses,” Lowe said. “We’ve got to play a full 60 minutes, we can’t have lapses at the start of the game and take some penalties there. They’ve got a good offense, they’re going to score on the power play, so we’ve got to stay off the kill. We’ve just got to get better and win games.”
Scoring—1. Allen, Steffes (Ludwig, Combs), 4:05 (pp); 2. Allen, Costello (Gens, Smith), 17:09. Penalties—Wichita, Flath (cross checking), 3:50; Allen, Ryder (delay of game), 4:32; Wichita, Reum (high sticking), 10:02; Wichita, Flath (holding), 15:05.
Scoring—3. Allen, Hanson (Lyon, Young), 19:25. Penalties—Allen, Gens (tripping), 1:01; Allen, Smith (hooking), 6:16; Wichita, Trebish (interference), 10:42; Allen, Clarke (unsportsmanlike conduct), 12:02.
Scoring—4. Wichita, Walker (Gauthier, Peckham), 18:07; 5. Wichita, Gauthier (Wilson, Kashirsky), 19:22 (pp). Penalties—Wichita, Miller (tripping), 0:43; Allen, Steffes (high sticking), 11:09; Wichita, Bartliff (hooking), 14:53; Allen, Lyon (hooking), 19:03; Allen, Gens (roughing), 19:22; Wichita, Lowe (roughing), 19:22; Wichita, Flath (high sticking), 19:53.
Power play—Allen 1-7, Wichita 1-6. Shots—Allen 8-7-2—17, Wichita 6-12-14—32. Saves—Allen, Riley 30-32; Wichita, Bunz 14-17.