At its halfway point, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team’s four-game swing through Colorado isn’t exactly shaping up as a Rocky Mountain high.
After dropping the first two games of the road set last weekend against the third-ranked Colorado College Tigers and their explosive offense, the Badgers (2-11-3 WCHA, 8-15-3 overall) must now face the Pioneers of Denver University, a team which already took two against them at the Kohl Center back in November.
Head coach Mike Eaves said his team came away from those November games — both of which Denver won 5-3 — pleased with its effort but aware that there was plenty of room for improvement.
Unfortunately, not much has changed since then for the Badgers, whose only constant remains their inconsistency. While UW has taken steps forward in some areas, its erratic offense — especially its ineffective power play — has continued to dog it throughout the season.
“Our D-zone coverage is better [than the beginning of the season], our fore-check is better, but our power play is still not where it needs to be,” said Eaves.
He mentioned poor puck support in the corners, a failure to win battles for the puck in the offensive zone, and plain bad luck as possible culprits for the Badgers’ man-advantage woes.
“At that critical moment, the puck is bouncing on us or we can’t quite handle a saucer pass,” Eaves commented.
The power play is particularly crucial to the fortunes of a team like Wisconsin, which lacks the offensive firepower to consistently control the action at even strength. Case in point: When the Badgers have scored a goal on the man-advantage this season, their record is 3-3-0; in games in which they have failed to do so, they have posted a 5-12-3 mark.
And of the UW’s last eight games, in which they have failed to score a single power play goal, they have won only one.
Eaves, however, says he is trying to retain his optimism.
“We’re scoring more [on the power play] in practice,” he said, adding that the Badgers just need to translate that into the games.
And while that might sound a little like grasping at straws, Eaves isn’t ready to give up on the power play or on his team.
“I wouldn’t come to work every day [if I didn’t think we could improve],” Eaves added.
When asked about his earlier promise that the Badgers would pick up their play by the end of the season, Eaves stood by his statement, saying that his team, “in some form or fashion,” would be playing their best hockey come March.
But Eaves is aware that such improvement can only come with a positive outlook, something he is determined his team will maintain no matter how the season continues to unfold.
“Every day we can choose our attitude,” Eaves said. “Our cup is half-full, and we’re going to move forward.”