Good morning, Snakes fans. Let me warn you from the beginning...I have lots of questions, but few answers. OK, now that we've got that straight...
This was such a big weekend for the Cottonmouths as they headed to Peoria for their first visit there. The Rivermen were only five points ahead of the Snakes in the SPHL standings, so the Cottonmouths had a legitimate chance to gain some ground in their quest to climb the ladder.
A recent schedule shuffle added a little trip to Knoxville on the way to the midwest, freezing branch of the league. It was a move that would launch this disastrous weekend.
- Did the heartbreaking loss in Knoxville affect the team the following two nights?
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No doubt about it, that was one of the toughest losses in the 10 years I've covered this team. The stakes were higher, but I rank it right up (down?) there with the two OTL in the playoffs against Jacksonville back in 2007. After the second of those I literally sat in my chair in shock, then realized I had a job to do. Yikes.
This loss was stunning, frustrating, heartbreaking...provide your own descriptor here. I'll admit that I was concerned about how it would affect the guys, but they're professionals and had a job to do in Peoria the following two nights.
- Where did the offense go?
Apparently, it never made the trip to Peoria. Pretty sure my palPedro Slayton
didn't forget to pack it along with the rest of the gear. But let's take a look. In the two games vs the Rivermen, the Snakes scored a grand total of 4 goals. Who was the leading scorer?
. Dan had two goals and one each was scored byJordan Draper
. Let's examine these stats...
Jordan is the only true goal scorer in this group. Tom and Jason Gray are the team's two offensive-minded d-men, who have contributed a hefty 45 points this season. Tom's goal came on the PP, the only one all weekend. Jason chipped in two assists. Dan had 5 goals coming in. His role is primarily to open up space for the scorers. Thank goodness for his two goals this weekend!
Among the missing vs Peoria: Matt Gingera (leading scorer with 19 goals, 35 points), the entire Preston Shupe-Neilsson Arcibal-Tory Allan line (a total of 25 goals and 55 points), Sam Bowles (5 goals, 14 points), Levi Lind (9 goals, 23 points). Matt and Levi each had one assist against the Rivermen.
- What happened to the power play?
It definitely disappeared this weekend. The Snakes PP was a combined 1 for 15 in three games this weekend. The PP is now at 17.56%, fourth in the league. The penalty kill sits at 83.94%, also fourth among the league's 10 teams.
- Are the Snakes ever going to jump out and score first?
Columbus drew first blood in the Knoxville game, but fell behind in both Peoria games. In Friday night's contest, they survived an early strike at the :40 mark and Saturday climbed out of a 3-0 hole.
- Where are all these turnovers coming from?
The Snakes had gotten much better at protecting the puck. Not so much this weekend. Saturday night's first goal resulted from a terrible turnover in their own zone.Mike Switzer
attempted to pass the puck to Tom behind the net. Mike whiffed on the pass and it trickled instead to Parker Stanfield, who was streaking toward to net. Stanfield buried it. 1-0 just over four minutes in.
This was by no means the only turnover over the weekend. It stands out because it was so costly.
- Are the officials that much worse this season or does it just seem that way?
Faithful readers of this space and my game stories know that I don't attack the officials often, or even mention them, for that matter. But this weekend, they cost the Cottonmouths two games. The penalty shot debacle in Knoxville has been well documented.
The rule was misinterpreted. Andrew Loewen should have been given a two-minute minor at worst, which would have lasted six seconds in regulation and extended into OT. That's being generous as the ref would have to be convinced that Andrew knocked the net off intentionally. I'm hearing that Andrew didn't knock it off at all, but Tory did!
The penalty shot is only awarded when there isn't time for the penalty to be served, either in regulation or OT. If there's another explanation, I'm not aware of it as a text to Jim Combs was not answered.
Two officiating blunders led to two Peoria goals on Saturday night, one directly and one indirectly. With a Gingera penalty winding down, a Riverman shot the puck. It bounced off Andrew somewhere...glove, blocker, stick, body, no idea....and shot high in the air. When I say high, I don't mean waist-high. It was above shoulder high. Taylor Larsen whacked it out of the air and into the net...GOAL. Mike Vee was screeching, I think. I was hollering too loud to hear Mike. I'm serious when I say this was not close. It was above shoulder high. Unbelievable.
Peoria has excellent camera work. Love, love, love the replays. You know we're so used to seeing a zillion replays on TV at home. It's awesome to see SPHL replays. Uh...this goal was the only scoring play in two nights night not replayed on the jumbotron. Check that...after the ref had left the ice at intermission, we got one more look at it. Larsen literally picked it out of the air. Geeeeeez.
A blown icing call took the puck back into the Columbus zone for a faceoff late in the same period. Seconds later, it was in the back of the net...3-0 lead instead of 2-0. Does one goal really matter? In what would end up being a one-goal loss for a team struggling to score? Yes, it does.
I don't know what is different this season with the refs, but I know I've never complained as much in the previous nine years together as I have this year.
- What's wrong with Andrew Loewen?
Nothing. The goalie is the last line of defense, true. But the d-men and even the forwards share some responsibility for keeping the puck out of the net. Turnovers are a killer especially if they're in your zone. Andrew's numbers are not what they were last year, when he was the league's de facto goalie of the year. Did you expect them to be? I didn't. Those numbers were a dream season for Andrew.
This season, he's suffered from a decided lack of support offensively. Andrew is 12-12-1 this season. In his 12 losses, the guys have scored a grand total of 21 goals. Do the math. That's fewer than two goals per game.
- Will the Snakes make the playoffs?
At this point, I'm honestly not sure. Eight of the league's 10 teams punch their tickets to the postseason. After failing to pick up a single point this weekend, here's how the standings look:
- Pensacola (53)
- Louisiana (53)
- Huntsville (48)
- MSRK (45)
- Peoria (44)
- MSS (38)
- SNAKES (35)
- Knoxville (35)
- Fayetteville (33)
- Bloomington (30)
As you can see, if the season ended today, the Snakes would squeak in. There are only 18 games left in the regular season, 12 of which are at home. Normally that would be a cause for celebration. This season, the Snakes are not even .500 at home (7-8-1) and 9-11-2 on the road.
If they don't make the playoffs, it'll be the first time in 10 SPHL seasons.
- Is the talent there to turn this season around?
I've said since camp that I thought there was a lot of talent on this team. Changes made during the season have made it even better. I'm still stubbornly sticking to that stance. The talent is there.
- So how do they turn it around?
Leadership. CaptainKyle Johnson
, along with Tom and Levi, who both wear As, as well as Andrew, Sammy and the other "older" guys are going to have to grab hold of this team and make things happen. I'm a big believer in team chemistry. This team's chemistry is excellent. They get along very well and really buy into the all-for-one-and-one-for-all band of brothers stuff. Now they need to kick it up a notch with the season on the line.