The Thunder has essentially divided itself into two distinct teams. One gives itself a chance to win, the other often does not – and the drastic separation goes against convention.
Wichita took 48 shots during a 1-0 loss to Allen on Friday night at Intrust Bank Arena. In even-strength situations, the Thunder was usually the aggressor, playing a physical game that created scoring chances while limiting Allen’s.
On power plays, when the Thunder had an extra man on the ice and is supposed to thrive, the positive traits ceased. Wichita became passive, hesitant and unsure, giving a break to Allen goaltender Joel Rumpel on an otherwise busy night.
In what has become a common refrain, the Thunder (11-32-6-5) misfired on all seven power-play attempts, and the lamenting of coach Kevin McClelland about his league-worst special-teams unit has been equally repetitive.
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“Our five-on-play, we generated more chances than our power play,” McClelland said. “What’s that telling you? A little too cute. …That’s when we need to simplify our game. When we make that extra pass our when we don’t shoot it quick enough, that’s when we run into problems. Our power play killed a lot of our momentum tonight.”
Friday’s game resembled that of Nov. 20, when the Thunder took 44 shots, a season-best for more than three months, against Allen in a shutout loss. Friday’s failures were nearly erased by the performance of new Thunder goalie Sean Bonar, who made several difficult saves to keep Wichita in striking distance.
Bonar, formerly with Orlando, debuted following recent injuries to David Shantz and Grant Rollheiser. The Thunder’s offense kept him from a victory as did Rumpel, who turned away 21 shots in the second period as Allen grabbed the lead.
“He was nervous,” Thunder defenseman Landon Oslanski said of Bonar. “Every goalie is coming to a new team. But he battled well – he let in one goal on (about) 30 shots. He was confident in there and he did well.
“They both (Bonar and Rumpel) played well. One goal is not a big difference. The other goalie had 50 shots so yeah, we got to him, but still we need to get people in front and we’ll be better.”
If the Thunder believed it was close to creating lasting positive moments following two well-played games against Idaho last weekend, Friday’s game might leave Wichita in a holding pattern.
The Thunder lost by one goal for the 20th time, each with equally painful memories about how those outcomes could have been different. Wichita was nearly saved on Friday by its defense but again let down by a power-play unit that has not developed in spite of McClelland’s public and private criticism.
“That team there, you hold them to one goal, and again you look – power play,” McClelland said. “There’s your story, right there.”
Penalties—Allen, Federico (interference), 6:01; Wichita, Neal (hooking), 10:27; Wichita, Neal (holding), 15:46.
Scoring—1. Allen, Arseneau (Costello, Makowski), 5:40. Penalties—Allen, King (too many men bench minor), 1:51; Allen, Steffes (tripping), 6:44; Allen, Courtnall (interference), 16:46.
Penalties—Allen, Arseneau (interference), 0:09; Wichita, Chelios (interference), 0:09; Allen, Makowski (high-sticking double minor), 1:39; Allen, Roy (delay of game), 19:07.
Power play—Allen 0-2, Wichita 0-7. Shots—Allen 11-11-7—29, Wichita 13-21-14—48. Saves—Allen, Rumpel 48-48; Wichita, Bonar 28-29.