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Coming off their sixth and final bye week of the season and wrapping up a 12-game home stand, No.9 Wisconsin delivered a 5-3 victory over Ohio State Friday night, but dropped a 3-1 decision Saturday.
What’s the Impact
It’s a tough ending to the longest home stand in school history, but the Badgers (14-7-1, 5-3-0 Big Ten) dominated play on Saturday night – having a huge advantage in shots (37-22), face-offs (36-26) and were good on special teams. UW just couldn’t put the puck on the net against a hot goaltender.
With Minnesota idle from league play last weekend, Wisconsin moved three points closer to the Gophers with a lot of hockey left to play. A 10-2-0 home stand should give UW a good helping of confidence.
Making its first appearance in Madison in 45 years, Ohio State (12-9-1, 2-5-2) left the weekend with some added confidence of its own, especially after being swept on the road by the Gophers and having a number of key players not make the trip.
Who was the Weekend MVP
Senior Mark Zengerle. In addition to a goal and two assists – both coming off hustle plays - on the weekend, the senior went 29-18 on his face-offs.
Three Areas of Concern
Slow Starts: After two scoreless first periods this weekend, Wisconsin has led just 10 times in 22 games after the first 20 minutes this season. The Badgers looked sluggish through the first 30 minutes of Friday, still trying to get their legs back after another bye week.
“We weren’t connecting dots,” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves. “We weren’t catching the puck. We weren’t used to the pace and the battling.”
UW managed to win Friday night and score the first goal on Saturday, but the Badgers need better offense in the game’s first period.
Power Play: After going 1-for-7 on the weekend, the Badgers are 3-for-32 (9.0 percent) in their last nine games and 13-for-85 (15.3 percent) on the season. UW ranks 46th out of 59 division 1 teams in that category.
UW was unable to score on a five-minute power play in the first period Friday, putting few high-grade scoring chances on net, and allowed a short-handed goal with 2:27 remaining in the game Friday. That made the game uncomfortable for the next 56 seconds until Joseph LaBate scored UW’s lone power play goal on the weekend.
UW created more chances on Saturday, but couldn’t find the finishing touch.
Kerdiles: Until the sophomore returns, Nic Kerdiles is a concern, as he’s basically missed his last eight games because of the World Junior Championships and then a shoulder injury suffered in the first period Jan.4. UW hopes Kerdiles is available this weekend, and they’ll need me to inject some life into the power play unit.
Three Areas of Excitement
Zengerle’s Line: The line of seniors Tyler Barnes and Zengerle and redshirt freshman Morgan Zulinick were the main weapons of offense for the Badgers on the weekend. The three-man group was responsible for UW’s Friday-night comeback, as Zulinick got the game-tying goal at 14:30 in the second, Barnes the game-winner less than three minutes later and Zengerle delivered the key assist to both of them. Barnes also added a pair of assists.
“They need to be consistent with that,” Eaves said of his second line, which finished with two goals, four assists, six shots and a plus-6 rating in the series opener. “If they can do that, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.”
The line was one of the hardest workers on Saturday night, too, as Zengerle accounted for the game’s first goal in the second period. However, that was all the offense UW could generate.
UW will get an update this week on Barnes’ health, as he crashed violently into the boards in the third period and left the ice favoring his right arm.
Penalty Kill:Although the Badgers allowed power-play goals in the first and second periods, respectively, Friday, Wisconsin clamped down early in the second period to turn the momentum.
The Badgers allowed only one shot on goal over the two minutes Barnes was whistled for holding, and just after the penalty expired, Zengerle forced a turnover by Ohio State’s Sam Jardine and fed Barnes for a 3-2 lead.
“Getting one back right off the penalty kill was big for us,” Barnes said.
Saturday’s loss overshadowed a stellar effort by the penalty kill, which kept the Badgers in the game by forcing the Buckeyes to go 0-for-5 on the man advantage.
Momentum: Wisconsin had zero momentum after the first few weeks of the season and despite Saturday’s loss, the Badgers are now playing some of their best hockey. It helps that Wisconsin had 11,328 in the Kohl Center Friday and 15,021 fans watch the game Saturday, the most for a home game since 2010.
“I think everyone in that locker room is bummed that we didn’t get the win for that crowd. And that’s something we talked about. Hopefully we have another opportunity when we play Minnesota in a few weeks to do that,” Zengerle said. “That’s what you want as a hockey player and that’s part of the luxury of playing at Wisconsin. You get that sort of thing.”
“They are very frustrated. They are disappointed. That’s the one thing about being a competitive athlete. They don’t want to hear the words we were saying as a coaching staff, but they are the truth. We hope that at some point before they leave they’ll recognize how good they played and they’ll hold their heads up when they walk out of this building.” – Eaves following Saturday’s loss.
Wisconsin will play its first road series since Nov.29-30 when it heads to Ann Arbor this weekend to take on Michigan. The Badgers swept then-No.8 Wolverines Jan.10-11, winning 5-2 and 3-1. After sweeping Michigan State, Michigan (12-6-2, 4-2-0 Big Ten) sits three points behind the Badgers – who have played two more games. Wisconsin is 15-25-5 at Michigan, but haven’t played in Ann Arbor since 2009.