Saturday’s loss to Tulsa showed the Thunder’s progress on offense, as Wichita’s 38 shots was its most in more than a month and as many as the previous two games combined.
On Sunday, Wichita took a step forward defensively, holding Allen, which boasts the league’s leading scorer, Chad Costello, to a pair of goals in regulation.
Those single steps, though, matched the points earned by the Thunder in those games. Saturday’s shootout loss was followed Sunday by Allen’s 3-2 overtime win at Intrust Bank Arena, giving Wichita one point in the standings.
The Thunder (7-18-1-3) has earned at least one point in four of its last five games, totaling five points in that stretch, but marginal progress won’t put fear in the three teams ahead of Wichita in the ECHL Central standings.
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"We’re picking up points, and we’re working hard, we’ve just got to find the way to get those two points and reward ourselves as a group," Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. "But getting points is crucial. Just ahead of us (in the division), there’s a logjam, and if we keep picking up points we’re going to find ourselves in there."
Despite a winning record, Allen is just outside the bottom 10 in the 28-team ECHL in goals allowed, so Sunday’s high volume of shots – both teams took 34 – wasn’t unexpected.
The Thunder’s 72 shots over consecutive games represents a season high but raises more questions regarding the Thunder’s scoring capabilities. When Wichita takes 20 or fewer shots, those questions are more simply answered, but when the Thunder converts one of 18 chances, like it has this weekend on average, low output can’t be easily pinpointed.
Though the last two games haven’t produced a win, they’ve displayed a style more conducive to winning, with the Thunder turning its physical defensive play into heightened urgency with the puck.
"You’ve got to shoot the puck and you’ve got to put pucks on net to get rewarded," McClelland said. "There have been some games where we’ve had 14, 15 shots – you don’t stand (a chance) of winning very many of those games. We put up 44 last time Allen was here and got nothing.
"We’re a team that struggles to find goals. We’ve got to find ways to generate goals, and the best way you can is to shoot the puck. So it’s a good start."
The first Allen goal came on a 2-on-1 that caught Thunder goaltender Grant Rollheiser out of position, and Allen scored later on a power play. For the rest of regulation, the Thunder’s defense was disruptive, and Allen didn’t threaten much in the third period even when taking 14 shots.
Wichita’s rally from a third-period deficit also induced confidence, which was diminished when Eric Roy’s second goal sailed over Rollheiser’s left shoulder and into the corner of the net about 90 seconds into overtime.
"It’s tough," said Thunder defenseman Eric Springer, whose goal tied it in the third. "It’s frustrating at times. But I think we kind of have to focus on the positive points as much as we can. We’ve been getting a lot more shots, we’ve been coming back in games – that’s something we hadn’t done earlier in the year.
"Sometimes it doesn’t bounce your way when it comes to shootouts and everything. But I think we just have to focus on that we’re playing better and continue to improve."
Scoring—1. Allen, (Parker, Stevenson), 10:19. Penalties—Wichita, Gauthier (tripping), 6:40; Allen, Gens (high-sticking), 11:55; Wichita, Huff (hooking), 17:59.
Scoring—2. Allen, Roy PP (Costello, Makowski), 15:59; 3. Wichita, Baptista (Nelson), 16:29. Penalties—Allen, Costello (high-sticking), 9:58; Allen, LaFontaine (holding), 13:56; Wichita, Lowe (hooking), 13:56; Wichita, Oslanski (holding), 14:33.
Scoring—4. Wichita, Springer (Sides, Neal), 13:09. Penalties—Wichita, Oslanski (hooking), 7:41.
Scoring—5. Allen, Roy, (Parker, Gill), 3:33.
Power play—Allen 1-4, Wichita 0-2. Shots—Allen 11-7-14-2—34, Wichita 10-14-7-3—34. Saves—Allen, Gill 32-34; Wichita, Rollheiser 31-34.