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Wichita's Tim Boron in net, with Michael Trebish, Feb. 21, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Ed Bailey. All Rights Reserved.)

Wichita’s Tim Boron in net, with Michael Trebish, Feb. 21, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Ed Bailey. All Rights Reserved.)

Another tough defeat last night for the Wichita Thunder by an all-too familiar foe, the Tulsa Oilers. The game started with two powerplay goals, one by each team, and ended with two empty net goals by Tulsa to seal the Thunder’s fate with a 7-4 loss.

What is it about Tulsa that makes them almost unsolvable for the Wichita Thunder? In head-to-head wins/losses the Thunder are clearly the underdog, and their Goals For/Goals Against ratio is worse. However the Thunder’s Powerplay and Penalty Kill percentages are better than the Oilers. And if anyone tells you that Wichita Penalty minutes are the worst in the Central Division, take a look at Erick Lizon’s 151 PIM compared to Tommy Mele’s 192 PIM. Wichita and Tulsa have under 2 minutes difference in their team penalties per game.  Where you begin to see the biggest difference is in two teams’ leading scorers — Wichita’s top ranked Ian Lowe has 46 points, and he falls below Tulsa’s 4th leading scorer, T.J. Caig with 48 points.

  Wichita Tulsa
Head-to-Head 2-3-1-3 7-2-0-0
Goals For 153 184
Goals Against 167 187
PP (Overall) (38/237) 16.0% (35/234) 15.0%
PK (Overall) (39/240) 83.8% (33/140) 76.4%
Most PIM Lizon – 151 Mele – 192
Team PIM/GM 22.5/Game 20.7/Game
Leading Scorers Lowe (16-30-46); Gauthier (20-25-45); Miller (15-25-40); Wilson (7-23-30); Kashirsky (11-17-28) Fisher (16-40-56); Booras (21-32-53); Pleskach (28-24-52); Caig (17-31-48); Jubinville (19-22-41)
Leading After 1st 9-2-0-1 17-4-0-1
Leading After 2nd 15-1-0-2 16-2-1-2
Trailing After 1st 3-8-2-4 4-13-0-0
Trailing After 2nd 2-16-1-2 4-18-0-1
Tied After 1st 12-10-0-0 4-6-1-2
Tied After 2nd 7-3-1-1 5-3-0-0
Out Shooting Opponents 16-11-1-3 11-10-0-0
Out Shot by Opponents 7-7-1-2 14-13-0-3

The Tulsa Oilers seem to always be in the right place in front of the net taking full advantage of any rebounds and bounces, and they excel at stealing pucks away from their opponents. If player and team takeaways and giveaways were tracked in the ECHL I suspect we would see some amazing stats for these two teams, and indeed part of the problem for the Thunder.

The Thunder also have a huge issue when taking the lead in a game — they have a bad habit of sitting back and playing defensively in order to hold the lead rather than continuing to forge ahead. This bad habit hurts them at the most crucial times, and it has been very noticeable in the last four games against Allen, Rapid City and last night against Tulsa. In all of those games Wichita held a lead and lost it — in the last two games against Allen, Wichita held a 5-3 lead; against Rapid City, the Thunder led 2-1 going into the 3rd; and against Tulsa, Wichita held an early 2nd period 3-2 lead.

Nikita Kashirsky summed up the last two games for the Wichita Eagle’s Lutz, “Tough losses. We’ve got to figure out how to play with the lead. It seems like every time we’re leading we’re not finishing the game right. I think it could be that we’re having a lead and when we go on the forecheck we’re kind of afraid to get caught up the ice and we’re thinking that if we sit back it’s going to be better. We’re going to address it in the locker room and go on from there.” 

Kashirsky is absolutely right. Once Wichita has a comfortable lead they shut down and begin to play defensive, safe, conservative hockey and that will not get them to the playoffs. Wichita faces Tulsa five more times before the season ends. If the Thunder plan to make the playoffs, they have to figure it out now. This is your wake-up call, Wichita!