The Columbus Cottonmouths’ home woes continued Saturday night in a 2-1 loss to the Mississippi RiverKings at the Civic Center.
The RiverKings used a barrage of shots – outshooting Columbus 45-21 – to take the victory.
Mississippi outshot Columbus 17-2 in a second period that saw Columbus kill two power plays, one a major power play awarded to the ‘Kings. Defenseman Rusty Hafner, ironically in his first game this year after offseason surgery, was assessed a major penalty for charging and a game misconduct after a hard hit on a Mississippi player.
While the result of the play was clearly unintentional, Snakes head coach Jerome Bechard said Hafner’s hit was a timely attempt to jump-start his team.
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“It’s exactly what we needed,” Bechard said. “We needed some energy, we needed a big hit, we needed something. The referee explained as soon as the player was cut open, the two-minute minor penalty became a major.”
The Snakes went to work killing the five-minute major penalty, and goaltender Brandon Jaeger stood tall as well. In all, Jaeger turned away 43 of 45 Mississippi shots on goal in the game.
“It was a huge momentum builder,” Jaeger said. “I felt pretty sharp throughout the game, controlling my rebounds and making the saves I had to. Our guys killed really well throughout that whole thing. We had some guys get stuck out there for three minutes, and they kept battling and battling and got the whistle. I was pretty impressed with our penalty kill all night.”
“Obviously, Jags was lights out tonight,” Bechard said. “He played phenomenal. I thought after we killed that major penalty, we’d get a little push and get some momentum off that.”
“That’s just another night for (Jaeger),” said Snakes forward Craig Simchuk, who scored the only goal of the game for Columbus in a late third period push. “He’s one of the best in the league right now. He’s stopping everything he’s seeing. It could be a lot worse without him or Lukas (Hafner) in net, so we’re thankful for that.”
Simchuk is the only player to score a goal at home so far this season for the Cottonmouths. In three games at the Civic Center, the Snakes have only two goals to show for it: a 1-0 loss against Macon on Oct. 22; a 4-1 loss to Pensacola on Oct. 28; and Saturday’s loss to the RiverKings.
“I thought it would be more than just me scoring at home. I’m not really here to do that,” Simchuk said. “I hope to lead by example for the new guys, working hard, making the smart, right plays, and hopefully guys feed off of that.”
Dating back to the end of the 2014-15 season, the Cottonmouths have been victorious just nine times in their last 35 regular season games, going 9-24-3 at the Civic Center during that stretch.
“I wish I had a good answer or recipe, but it seems like we play a full 60 minutes on the road,” Simchuk said. “I don’t know if it’s jitters or preparation or what, but we have to find something here.”
“I don’t know what it is,” Bechard said. “I don’t know if we’re trying to play too pretty and perfect and home, where on the road we’re doing whatever it takes. (Tonight) wasn’t a bad hockey game, but we have to give ourselves a lot more chances. Two shots on goal in the second period…aren’t going to win you many games.”
The Snakes return to home ice on Tuesday night to face the Huntsville Havoc. For the Cottonmouths, it’s another chance at redemption and their first victory of the season inside the friendly confines of the Civic Center.
“It’s one of those things where I couldn’t care less how well I’m playing, I want to win games for the team,” Jaeger said. “If we’re only getting one goal, (allowing) two goals isn’t good enough. Hopefully we’ll get back on the win train next week.”
“I think it’s nice to get into a bit of a rhythm to get right back on Tuesday,” Bechard said. “If you look at the last three weeks, the first game we’ve been sluggish, the second game we’ve been better.”
“We’ll take (Sunday) off, relax at home, and come back Monday ready to work, refreshed and refocused,” Simchuk said.
Saturday at Columbus Civic Center
First period – Scoring: 1, MRK, Marcuz 8:21 SH. Penalties: Pompeo, COL (hooking) 2:36; Harrington, MRK (tripping) 8:13; Lindores, MRK (holding) 10:46; Senkerik, COL (kneeing) 17:43.
Second period – Scoring: none. Penalties: Hafner, COL (charging major, fighting, game misconduct) 3:38; Harrington, MRK (fighting) 3:38; Johnson, COL (tripping) 15:51; Leone, MRK (tripping) 17:58.
Third period – Scoring: 2, MRK, Sherwood (Marcuz, Grace) 1:22; 3, COL, Simchuk 7:18. Penalties: none.
Shots on goal: Mississippi 13-17-15—45; Columbus 11-2-8—21.
Power plays: Mississippi 0-4, Columbus 0-3.
Goaltenders: Mississippi, Barone (win) 60:00, 21 shots, 20 saves; Columbus, Jaeger (loss) 59:18, 45 shots, 43 saves.
Referee: Holton; Linesmen: D’loughy, Ruwe.