The last time the Badgers (2-2-0) were in action was two weeks ago when they were throttled in back-to-back nights, 9-2 and 7-3 by Boston College and Boston University, respectively. Although the two games combined for the most goals Wisconsin has given up in 27 years, head coach Mike Eaves said it is still much too early in the season to worry and his team is much better than the weekend in Boston showed.
“We’re not pushing the panic button. It’s one of those weekends where everything that could have gone wrong, did,” Eaves said. “If you watch videos, there were moments when we were good. But when the moments of truth came, in a lot of cases, we were either bad in front of our goalie, or our goalie struggled.
“So in terms of what we want to improve on, it’s so early in the year, we want to get better in everything. We’ve got a clean slate here. We had a week off, worked really hard and I know our guys are anxious to play games again and show everybody that was a little blip in the screen.”
Meanwhile, Lake Superior State (4-0-0) will come into the Kohl Center Friday night riding a four-game winning streak and is one of only six undefeated teams in all of Division I. The No. 12-ranked Lakers’ hot start has them one spot ahead of the Badgers in the latest USCHO poll.
As Wisconsin senior center Mark Zengerle explained, any team with an undefeated record is not to be taken lightly.
“We know they’re 4-0 and I think we just expect them to come out with a lot of confidence. And they’re playing well right now, obviously. They haven’t lost. They’re going to come into a place like the Kohl Center that’s bumping and it’s a big-time arena, so I’m sure they’re going to come in like most teams do when they play here, all fired up and ready to beat us,” Zengerle said.
The Lakers have had a similar schedule to Wisconsin up to this point, playing their first series at home against Robert Morris, followed by a road series at Union and then a bye this past weekend. But one of the big reasons Lake Superior St. is currently undefeated is its defense and goaltending, which have combined to allow just 2.2 goals per game in four games.
Wisconsin’s defense and goaltending duo of juniors Landon Peterson and Joel Rumpel looked good after the first series, as the two netminders combined to allow only three goals to Northern Michigan. But the following week in Boston, Peterson was torched for 13 goals in two games, as Rumpel stayed home in Madison with a lower body injury.
Whether Rumpel will play this weekend is still up in the air, but Peterson has responded well in practice after struggling two weekends ago, according to Eaves.
“Landon’s looked good this week,” Eaves said. “It was a concern that when a young goalie loses his confidence and fights the puck — that’s a big part of his equipment. But this week he’s been good. He’s bounced back and that’s the kind of kid he is.
“He’s a hard working young guy and he knows the position. He just had to get back to some of his basics and not fight the puck so much.”
Despite the early season blunders, one of the bright spots for the Badgers has been the powerplay, which has scored four goals in 17 opportunities (23.5 percent), much better than the anemic 13 percent conversion rate from a year ago.
But on the flip side of things on special teams, Wisconsin’s penalty kill has been less than stellar, as it has only killed off 78 percent of the penalties so far.
With this in mind, junior defenseman Jake McCabe said room exists for improvement in both strengths and weaknesses.
“I want to see our powerplay keep producing. That’s been a positive this year,” McCabe said. “Our penalty has got to step up. We got to block more shots, be willing to sacrifice our bodies. And just play for each other. We’re not playing for rankings. We’re playing for ourselves and our fans.”
In the Badgers’ first game in two weeks and first home series in three weeks, it will be seen just how far they have come since they last played.
“We went through so much last year that what happened last weekend, most of our guys have been through something like that. So it’s, ‘Hey, let’s control what we can every week. Every day let’s come back and work on things.’ We know we’re better than we showed. We just have to play that way,” Eaves said.