Playing its first road series in nearly two months, No.9 Wisconsin were outmuscled in a 3-1 loss Friday night before turning in a much better performance Saturday, resulting in a 2-2 tie at No.12 Michigan. In its first conference shootout, Wisconsin lost 1-0.
What's the Impact
Wisconsin (14-8-2, 5-3-1-0 Big Ten) failed to capitalize after leading heading into the third period on Saturday night, falling to 11-0-1 when in that situation. Worst yet, the Badgers fell to third place, as Michigan (12-6-3, 5-2-0-1 Big Ten) now leads UW by one point in the standings. However based on its sweep in Madison, UW won the season series against Michigan.
Who was the Weekend MVP
Junior goaltender Joel Rumpel was stellar throughout the weekend. The junior made 31 saves on Friday and played even better during his 39-save effort on Saturday. Rumpel is 11-3-1 on the season.
Three Areas of Concern
Defensive toughness: Wisconsin gave up three goals on the weekend as a result of the inability to win one-on-one battles. On Friday, defenseman Joe Faust got beat for a pair of goals when he couldn't stymie his defender, leading to a breakaway, and couldn't clear our his defender in front of the net that led to another goal. Captain Frankie Simonelii and others also struggled clearing defenders out of harm's way, leading to multiple high-grade opportunities for the Wolverines.
"We didn't push back hard enough," said UW coach Mike Eaves.
Road Woes: Wisconsin's 1-6-1 record on the road have all come against ranked teams, and UW likely won't see another ranked team until the postseason. Break down the numbers and it's easy to see why UW has faltered. UW has been outscored 33-15 on the road this season, have given up over 37 shots a game, attempted fewer than 28 and been outscored 11-5 in the first and third period.
"It's always tough playing on the road," said Michael Mersch. "You would think with a veteran team we'd be able to pull out a few more wins. It's just the way the cookie crumbles. We're going to have to figure out how to win on the road because we have a bunch of games coming down the stretch here."
Lack of Punch: Without Nic Kerdiles in the lineup, Wisconsin had to rely on its top three scorers, but it's a group that has struggled on the road this season. Mersch, Mark Zengerle and Jake McCabe are minus-7, minus-9 and minus-13, respectively.
Also of note: Slow starts (UW outscored 2-0 in two first periods), power play (UW went 0-for-3) and no Kerdiles for the third straight series.
Three Areas of Excitement
Bonus Shot: Wisconsin needed a lift on Saturday and got it from Zengerle in the second period, as he converted UW's first successful penalty shot since 1996. Skating out ahead of the pack, Zengerle was pulled down from behind leading to a successful penalty shot and a 2-1 Wisconsin lead. The penalty-shot goal was the first for UW since Oct. 19, 1996, when Darren Haley scored against St. Cloud State.
Penalty Kill:UW's penalty kill was a perfect 5-for-5 on Friday night, only allowing four shots and survived a third period when it had to kill off three penalties. Wisconsin was even better on Saturday, killing off all six penalties on 14 shots.
"They blocked shots at key times," said Eaves. "We had lanes. We did little plays, we cleared the puck to it and (Rumpel) was very good."
Pairwise:Despite the struggling weekend, Wisconsin still sets No.13 in the USCHO Pairwise Ranking, which mimic the NCAA tournament selection process. If the tournament started this weekend, the Badgers would be in, but would likely be facing a top-seeded team.
"I think we were disappointed. I thought (Friday) night we didn't play to the level we were capable of. Everybody talks about not having those two guys (Kerdiles and Tyler Barnes) out. It doesn't matter. We rose to the occasion (Saturday). I think that coming in here and doing that with what we have is something we can use in the future." – Eaves.
Falling to No.12 in the USCHO ranking, Wisconsin plays its most pivotal series of the season when it welcomes No.1 Minnesota to the Kohl Center. Minnesota (19-2-5, 8-0-2-0 Big Ten) took five points from Michigan State in a home series and have not lost since Nov.24.
The Gophers swept the Badgers in Minneapolis in late November, winning 4-1 and 4-3. UW is 4-6-2 against ranked teams this season, but is 3-0-1 against ranked teams at home. UW is 10 points behind Minnesota, so this is a big weekend for UW to put itself back in the conference race.