Good morning, Snakes fans. Well, it's official. I double checked to be sure, but the Snakes have hit rock bottom...of the SPHL standings.
They're tied for last place with Bloomington, the team that beat them in OT last night. 9-14-2 record...20 points. Three games away from the midpoint of the season. Out of the playoffs if the season ended today. Out of the playoffs for the first time in 10 SPHL seasons.
OK, all of the gloom and doom aside. The season is only halfway over. It's early January, not March. Does that mean there's not cause for concern? It doesn't.
Starting with the good news. The goaltending and D have vastly improved. Andrew Loewen hasn't returned to his 2012-2013 form, but did you expect him to? Andrew was pretty much set up for failure if you use his other-worldly numbers from a year ago. That was a dream season, a career year. If you expected the same numbers from him this season, you're not being fair to Andrew.
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Is he the same goalie as a year ago? No. He's missing the same quality nearly every player on the team is missing. Consistency. Consistency from game to game and consistency within a game. Letting in the easy ones seconds before standing on his head.
Travis Bosch is well into the learning curve in his first pro season. Travis' numbers are actually better than Andrew's at this point. (3.06 to 3.45; .902 to .890).
The performance of both begs the question: is Jerome's goaltending job share working? Is it time for a change? Sorry, that's two questions.
Jerome told me recently that he's waiting for one of his goalies to reach out and grab the job. Neither has...but has either had a chance? Is it time for one of them to be given the lion's share of work and see how he handles it? Is this alternating games thing working?
The D is much improved with the return of Mike Switzer, as I expected it to be. Mike is a steady player and a good match with Tom Maldonado. These two, along with second-year guys Chris Bailer and Kyle Johnson and rookies Andy Willigar and Jason Gray are a solid D corps. The problem is...you knew there would be a problem, right...
Kyle wasn't in the lineup last night and will probably miss tonight, too. His illness is not yet diagnosed, but if it's what his dad has diagnosed, it could be a tricky thing for Kyle and the team. Very painful right now. When I texted Kyle earlier in the week to see how he was feeling, he told me he'd survive. I told him I certainly hoped so! Kyle is a good young player and a conscientious leader. He cares deeply about his team and wears that C with honor and pride. The team needs him out there.
Also missing last night was Alex Gallant, slapped with a three-game suspension for fighting after the horn vs Knoxville's Ben Schoeneberger. I expected them to get a game each. Three? Pretty excessive, if you ask me. Anyway, Alex is gone tonight and Jan. 10 in Knoxville.
So last night, the Snakes are down two with Steve Mele in SC. Alex can't be replaced on the roster, but Steve was replaced with a familiar face. Sammy Bowles was back on the ice last night. He looked and played great. Scored a goal...the only goal. Which brings us to the offense.
I like to simplify things, so here it is. When you score ONE goal, you hardly ever win. You're expecting your goalie and D to achieve perfection while you light the lamp ONCE? A little unfair, don't you think?
Since scoring 7 goals at home vs LA on Dec. 22, here is the offensive production for the next four games: 1, 5, 1, 1. Not surprisingly, that's L, W, L, OTL. If you don't score, you don't win games!! Not exactly rocket science.
With Steve taking his 17 points in 10 games to SC, who's going to step up and lead this team offensively? Sammy is a temporary fix. He has a big boy job. Sure, he's got an understanding and supporting boss, but he is all grown up with a new bride, bills and a burgeoning career. He will probably not be able to play hockey full-time, but that remains to be seen.
Matt Gingera is the obvious candidate to lead this team offensively. He's a talented, explosive player, who's pretty near the point-per-game mark with 23 in 25 GP. But Matt too has suffered from inconsistency. An encouraging sign is that he's got 5 points in the past 5 games.
Jordan Braid is another candidate. Right now Jordan is in a slump, being shut out in the last 5 games. His last point was on Dec. 21. Identical stats for another nominee, rookie F Tory Allan. Tory has also been held scoreless since Dec. 21.
Maybe Jordan Draper. After a great performance on Dec. 22 (1G, 2A vs LA), Jordan has been shut out too.
How about Levi Lind? You might be surprised to learn that Levi is tied with Matt for leading scorer over the past 5 games.
There's a new F coming in today. He probably won't be in the lineup tonight, according to Jerome, but you never know.
I know what ya'all are thinking. What's it going to take to right this ship? Is it going to be another Jesse Cole-like-trade? Waiving a player...or two? Or is the consistency just arriving a little late like packages after Christmas morning.
Wish I knew, but I do know one thing. There's some grumbling among long-time fans going on out there. I've even heard boos at the Pit, which I really hate, but understand. Fans are frustrated.
The team is always trying to attract new fans. If your friends, family or group comes to a hockey game, you want to be entertained, right? The product on the ice is a big part of that. Winning prizes is fun. Riding the Zamboni, eating a chicken basket and getting on FanCam are a part of the total experience. But a winning team would definitely help matters.
Attendance always improves after the holidays and football season are both behind us. So the timing is right for a consistent, entertaining product on the ice. Right, guys?