No. 14 Wisconsin gave a rude greeting to new WCHA conference member Alabama-Huntsville over the weekend and pushed its home winning streak to six games in the series sweep. The Badgers took Friday night's game 5-0 and 3-2 on Saturday.
What's the Impact
Needing to take advantage of home ice and "put the hay in the barn," according to UW coach Mike Eaves, UW did just that. With six games left of the 12-game home stand, it was important for UW to continue the momentum they built up before the holiday break.
With the sweep, the Badgers finished the month of December with a 6-0 record, something they had not done since Feb. 2000, when they went 8-0.
"We knew this stretch was going to be huge for us, especially with all the games at home," forward Jefferson Dahl said. "Any time you win you start to build confidence. And it comes in practice, as well. We've been doing good things in practice, which is starting to transition over to games. It was huge to come back from this break without practicing and get two big wins. Alabama-Huntsville gave us all they had and fortunately we came out with two wins."
Who were the Weekend MVPs
Keegan Meuer: Meuer had to step up in place of Nic Kerdiles, who was playing for the US National Team in Sweden, and made an immediate impact in the first period on Friday night, scoring a goal off a loose puck to give the Badgers the early lead, and essentially the game-winning goal.
"I don't know if it was their defenseman or if there was a deflection, but it came right off the net and happened to come right on my stick and the goalie seemed a little bit surprised by it," Meuer said. "He was a little off his angle and I was able to put a quick one by him. Getting that confidence back coming off a break, you feel like you're right back in to it. It was good to get one early personally and for the team."
Jefferson Dahl: Dahl earned more ice time to help fill in for Kerdiles, and he did a nice job. Dahl notched two assists on Friday night and opened up the scoring with his second goal of the season.
The goaltenders: While Joel Rumpel had to "stay awake" on Friday night, Landon Peterson was kept a little busier. Recording his seventh win and fifth career shutout, Rumpel only had to make nine saves because of UW's strong effort to block pucks in front of him.
Landon Peterson took over on a planned off night for Rumpel and earned his third win, stopping 18 of 20 shots.
"When he was asked to make saves, he was good," Eaves said of Peterson. "I liked his puck handling, he kept the puck moving at the right time. He faced 20 shots over the game, mentally it's tough. He was good for us."
Three Areas of Concern
Staying out of the box: Wisconsin committed seven penalties on Friday night for 14 penalty minutes but just three for six on Saturday. While the Badgers did kill off all but one over the weekend, they will need to play cleaner against stronger offenses that will capitalize on a higher percentage of 5-on-4 situations.
Power play:As it has been all season, the Badgers struggled to capitalize with the man advantage. Facing one of the worst penalty killing units in the country, UW went 0-for-5 with on Friday and Saturday night. UW has now converted on just 15.9 percent this season.
"It is just chemistry," Eaves said about the power play unit without Kerdiles. "We didn't have time to work on it in practice with (Joseph) LaBate over there and trying (Chase Drake) over there. We changed personal on the other unit. It is just a matter of us getting reps together and getting used to each other."
UAH had allowed 33 power-play goals on the season coming into the series. Wisconsin came up empty on the power play for the second-straight game, failing score on five more chances despite hitting the post three times on the man-advantage.
Pulling away: Although the Badgers were playing a UAH squad that struggles both scoring and keeping teams off the board, they could not pull away and make the scoreboard reflect that fact. Through two periods on Friday night, UW outshot the Chargers 38-3, won 23-of-28 faceoffs, but only scored twice. The third period was better, as UW scored three times to get the crucial third goal in a 2-0 game.
"Having the feeling of control is a very slippery slope to feel, and even if its 2-0 going into the third and the thing that we talked about is 2-0 is the worst lead in hockey… It's either 2-1 or 3-0," Eaves said. "And that third goal that Besse scored was a big one and the probably the watershed moment of the game. Even though the shots were what they were and the possession was what they were, you just have to get that next goal so that the bounce of a puck doesn't put you back on your heels."
On Saturday night, the Badgers did not score the crucial third goal until late in the third period. UAH played UW tough for the entire third period until Tyler Barnes scored to put the game out of reach.
Three Areas of Excitement
Defense:On Friday night, the Badgers made it look easy, allowing the Chargers to put just nine shots on net, making Rumpel barely work to get his seventh win and the shutout. Wisconsin outshot the Chargers 25-0 through 26 minutes of play, but it didn't get much better the rest of the game. UAH's shots and trips into the Badger's zone did not lead to strong scoring chances. Saturday was a little different with a similar result. The Badgers outshot the Chargers 45-20 and finished with a total of 10 blocked shots.
Passing: Wisconsin's passing in the weekend was just one factor that kept the Chargers in their own defensive zone on Friday and Saturday night. The Badgers did not make too many turnovers that turned into odd man situations. Although the Badgers were unsuccessful on the power play on Friday night, their passing in the offensive zone was strong enough to keep up a steady attack that put nine shots on net.
"When your goaltender is your best penalty killer … to see that, that's great," UAH head coach Mike Corbett said. "Especially on that first one, they had it in [the zone] for two minutes from start to finish, and sometimes you've got to weather those storms."
UW totaled eight assists on Friday night and six assists on Saturday.
Rebounding:Getting to the front of the net and making the most of rebounded pucks was the Badgers' recipe for success over the weekend. It started with Meuer's goal that deflected off the post and continued from there.
Wisconsin's forwards found their way to the front of the net and cleaned up pucks that UAH goalie Matt Larose and Carmine Guerriero could not cover up. The Badgers scored on five of 55 shots on net Friday night, three of which came directly off rebound attempts. Grant Besse, Tyler Barnes and Michael Mersch forced their way in front of the Chargers defenseman to put the puck in the net. Mersch has now scored a goal in sixth straight with his 11th of the season coming on Friday night.
On Saturday night, Joseph LaBate redirected a goal off a pass from Tyler Barnes that went of the post
"We did come in with limited ice time, limited practice, but I think guys did a great job over break of making sure they were ready and staying sharp and focused. We took our time yesterday very seriously. We have a message as a team … to come out 3-0, take it one game at a time. We need to make some hay while the suns shining." –Badgers forward Keegan Meuer.
The Badgers continue their home stand in the new year with a familiar WCHA foe, Alaska-Anchorage.
Alaska-Anchorage is in the middle of the pack in the new WCHA this season at 5-7-2. The Seawolves are similar offensively to Alabama-Huntsville, averaging 1.86 goals per game, however their penalty kill is stronger at 74.5 percent.
The Seawolves are 2-2 in their two December series but have not played since Dec. 14.