Following an 8-6 loss at Wichita Thursday night, the Missouri Mavericks definitely needed to step it up defensively against the same Thunder squad Friday night at the Independence Events Center.
They did – allowing just 16 shots and two goals. But the hometown team managed just one shorthanded goal and fell to the rival Wichita Thunder 2-1 for the third game in a row.
Before the start of the game, coach Scott Hillman wrote on a message board that the team could not allow more than two goals, and backup goalie Joe Howe accommodated, making big stop after big stop.
“They didn't get many shots tonight,” Hillman said, “but the ones they got were quality shots, and Joe gave us just what we needed, a quality performance in the net. He was outstanding!
“The penalty kill was much better tonight and overall we played well, but they scored one more goal than we did and that's just not acceptable. We have to find a way to win tomorrow night.”
The Mavericks play host to the Arizona Sundogs at 7:05 p.m. Saturday and will be glad to see a team other than the Thunder.
“This is just so frustrating,” said rookie forward Rob Kleebaum, who scored the shorthanded goal at the 9:48 mark of the first period. “This was one of those games where we didn't get any bounces.
“Our shots were going off the posts – this might be more frustrating than last night. You hate to waste a great performance like Joe gave us tonight. But you can take a lot of positives away from this game, you really can.
“We played well enough to win – we just couldn't get the puck in the back of the net.”
Wichita took a 1-0 lead at 5:08 of the first period when Ian Lowe managed to get the puck past Howe. Kleebaum knotted the score four minutes later and that's how the game went until Jon Booras scored the game winner at 11:08 of the third period.
The 12-5-1 Mavericks could not pull Howe from the net until just 18 seconds remaining because Sebastien Thinel was called for holding at 1:52.
With seven seconds left in the game, John-Scott Dickson and Colt King (abuse of officials, game misconduct) were sent off the ice, giving the Thunder a 5-3 player advantage for the closing seconds.
Hillman refused to be critical of the officials, although his players were barking at them after the game and the crowd of 4,485 roared its disapproval.
David Brown stopped 30 of 31 shots to pace the 6-11-4 Thunder, who beat Missouri last Saturday in a 3-2 shootout, and then followed with this week's 8-6 and 2-1 victories.
“We need a win Saturday,” Howe said. “And if we play the same type of defense we played tonight, we have a good shot at ending this (losing) streak.”
Follow Bill Althaus on Twitter: @AlthausEJC