Before the Thunder can have a successful defense – whether the numbers show it or not – the offense must reach the same standard.
Wichita’s defensemen, and some defense-minded forwards, have kept many hockey games within reach, even though the Thunder has scored the fewest goals, by a wide margin, in the ECHL.
The Thunder (7-18-1-3) has 54 goals and no other team in the 28-team league is below 70. When Wichita fails to score, its defensive efforts are diminished, sometimes because a greater focus on scoring leaves the defense vulnerable.
“When our shots are down, you can expect that we spend more time in our (defensive) zone,” Thunder defenseman Eric Springer said. “You’ve got to be real tight defensively if you’re going to keep them out of the net when (the opponent) is playing most of the time in your own zone.”
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The last two weeks have offered the Thunder both ends of the spectrum. Four of five games in that stretch were decided by a single goal, all beyond regulation, as Wichita played at a comfortable pace and held each opponent to three goals or fewer.
Then there was the Dec. 20 game against Cincinnati, which the Thunder lost 6-1 and took 16 shots. It wasn’t a high-output game for the Thunder, which didn’t take more than six shots in any period.
But it showed how Wichita can expend energy, like it did during a near-rally in the second period, before a quick burnout as Cincinnati scored the final four goals.
On Dec. 8, the Thunder lost to Rapid City 7-2 despite surrendering a modest 25 shots. An early deficit forced Wichita to send its defensemen into the offensive rush, which led to more scoring chances for Rapid City.
“We’ve been in a lot of one-goal games,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “… I had a coach who I won’t name who said, if he didn’t know the score, Wichita would have won that (Rapid City) game.
“In that situation, we made it 5-2 and all of a sudden we’re pushing. So we send our defenseman up the ice and they get a couple 2-on-1 goals to make it 7-2. Situations where a couple bad goals, a couple bad pinches and those things happen. We’re starting to play a little more sound defensively and starting to rely on each other, which I think is the big thing.”
The offense may be coming around, too. Wichita has taken 72 shots in the last two games, both post-regulation losses, for its highest total in consecutive games this season.
More urgency from scorers should, at least, keep games close and keep defensemen from having to handle the puck and contribute offensively if they’re not used to doing so. Such a circumstance would, in theory, improve both units.
“We’ve struggled a little bit putting pucks in the net,” Springer said. “So defensively we’ve got to be better and better. That’s something that’s happened, we’ve had to be real tight, and that has helped us grow as a unit. Guys have been playing well defensively, and it’s a matter of putting some more pucks to the net and getting some wins.”
Allen at Thunder
When: 7:05 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Intrust Bank Arena
Records: Allen 17-12-1-0, Thunder 7-18-1-3