Losers of three straight, the Columbus Cottonmouths are relying on the return of some key players in hopes of providing some much needed scoring.
Defenseman Andy Willigar is expected back this weekend (Columbus also play at Knoxville on Saturday), while Martin Tuma is still a question mark. Meanwhile, captain Kyle Johnson is likely to sit out this weekend. Last Saturday marked the first game Johnson had missed this season.
"Jonny is a lead-by-example guy leaving a big hole for us to try and plug," Bechard said. "It takes everyone stepping up, some guys step up vocally or let their play talk for themselves, but what we really need is effort at the right time."
Columbus, which is averaging fewer than 2½ goals per game, has struggled in close games with a 5-7 record in games decided by one goal, including an 0-5 mark in games that have extended into an extra period. Games in which they score three or more goals Columbus, which hosts Macon Friday night at 7:30 p.m., has gone 9-3 having won nine straight.
Coupled with injuries to three defensive starters, Louis Belisle and Chris Rial have shifted from their normal forward position to defense. Belisle and Rial are one and three, respectively, on the Cottonmouths in goals scored.
"I think it's all in one, the offense starts in the defensive zone of the rink," Columbus coach Jerome Bechard said. "Offensively, it begins with our D-zone coverage. Right now once we get the puck we're just standing around being one dimensional waiting for someone else to make a play."
The lack of scoring has also been a result of the Snakes not taking advantage of power-play opportunities. Second from the bottom in power-play percentage at 11.2 percent, the Snakes have scored a mere 12 times in 107 chanes, third most in the SPHL.
"For the better part of the week, we've spent most of our practices on the power play," Bechard said. "We're talented enough up-front, (but) we're just making too many extra plays when we should be shooting."
Presently sitting in sixth place in the nine-team SPHL, Columbus enters a pivotal weekend just one point ahead of seventh-place Knoxville and three points in front of Louisiana and Macon.
The start of the new year hasn't been kind to Macon with the Mayhem entering Friday 0-5-1 in their last six games. Macon has taken three of five from Columbus this season, however.
The Mayhem and Cottonmouths have played close throughout the season; three of the five games have needed overtime, with each team winning once in regulation.