Weninger, Thunder Down Komets to Extend Lead
A night after carrying a one goal lead into the third period, only to see it vaporize in a 2-1 loss, the Wichita Thunder found themselves in a similar position position. This time, however, the team would not relinquish the one goal lead, extending it in fact on their way to a 4-2 victory over the Fort Wayne Komets on Saturday. Braden Watts and Spencer Dorowicz led the way, scoring a goal and adding and assist and Evan Weninger earned his first victory since returning from an injury, stopping 34 of 36 shots. The win moved Wichita to 39-18-8, a 0.662 winning percentage. That is now 26 percentage points ahead of Fort Wayne in the Western Conference standings.
Watts got things started for Wichita, giving his team to lead 2:52 into the contest. Watts moved toward the left face-off circle looking for a shot. A Fort Wayne defender slid across trying to block any attempt by the Thunder forward, but Watts was patient, waiting for the obstruction to clear before firing a shot that Robbie Beydoun got a piece of, but the puck slipped between the Komets’ netminder’s arm and side, creeping across the goal line to give Watts his ninth goal of the year.
Just one goal was scored in the first frame, but each team would net two in the second. Gordie Green extended the Wichita lead to two 10:26 into the second period. Green took a pass from Matteo Gennaro along the half boards, moved in toward the right face-off circle before making a nice move to tip the puck ahead to himself, getting around a Komets defenseman before firing a shot that beat Beydoun over the right shoulder for his sixth goal of the season. Green had just returned from the AHL earlier in the afternoon.
Fort Wayne responded with the power-play goal a little less than two minutes later. Alan Lyszczarczyk shot just above the right face-off circle that Weninger saved. The puck came right to A.J. Jenks, who made a beautiful between the legs pass across the crease to Brandon Hawkins. He fired a shot that Weninger was somehow able to dive over and knock down with his stick, but the puck came to the opposite side again where Jenks was able to knock it in for his 10th goal of the year.
Just before the 15-minute mark, Beau Starrett restored the two goal Wichita advantage. With Wichita on the power-play, Cam Clarke fired a shot high in the slot that Beydoun knocked down, but right to Stefan Fournier, who tried to put the rebound back on net, but it was deflected to the side where Starrett gained control. He fired a shot that was knocked down by Mathieu Brodeur, but the deflection came right back to Starrett, who lifted it over the shoulder of the Fort Wayne goaltender for his 15th tally of the year, giving the Thunder a 3-1 lead.
A little over one minute later Nick Boka made a spectacular move that cut the deficit to one. He gained speed inside the neutral zone, bursting into the Thunder end. The Komets forward moved down the slot, looking like he was going to swoop across the net trying for the backhander to the far post. That got Weninger leaning that direction, which allowed Boka to simply chip the puck into the net on his forehand to make it a 3-2 contest.
The Thunder clung to that one goal advantage through much of the third period, as Weninger made a number of great saves to keep his team on top. The Komets pulled Beydoun with about two minutes left in the game, but Dorowicz iced the contest with an empty net goal, his 11th tally of the season to secure the 4-2 victory.
Weninger made several spectacular saves in the game. He finished with 34 saves. It was just his second game since returning from an injury and earned the Wichita netminder his first victory since then.
The loss dropped Fort Wayne to 26-14-4, giving them a 0.636 points percentage, five percentage points ahead of the Allen Americans who won on Saturday. These two teams will go at it again on Sunday, the puck drops at 4:00.
By Robert Pannier