For the Wisconsin men’s hockey team, the power play has been anything but powerful this year.
In the WCHA, UW sits at the bottom of the WCHA in power play goals scored with seven, while the next lowest team Alaska-Anchorage has 11 power play goals.
Just when they thought they had turned the corner – scoring two power play goals against Alaska-Anchorage Jan. 25 – old problems re-emerged when the Badgers played host to the Beavers from Bemidji State University Friday and Saturday.
Despite earning three points on the weekend – consisting of a 2-2 tie Friday and a 3-2 win Saturday – the Badgers scored just a single goal with the man-advantage in eight power plays in the series.
Against Bemidji State, UW was forced to play with three key members of the Wisconsin power play.
Senior Derek Lee missed Friday with lingering effects from a concussion, while Barnes was benched Saturday for failing to report to a team meeting and sophomore defenseman Jake McCabe was unavailable either night with an ankle injury.
With a revolving door of injuries and other problems affecting the lineup each night, head coach Mike Eaves chalked up the team’s power play difficulties to the fact Wisconsin has been unable to pin down a power play line that can stay healthy.
“I think we can be better offensively,” Eaves said. “When we were in that two-month stretch where we didn’t lose, we were finding ways to score goals. The thing that is being indicated by not having these young men in the lineup is that we’re thin offensively. When one of these guys are out, we struggle.”
And struggle they did.
In their eight power plays against the Beavers, the Badgers averaged just a single shot per power play, lacking the creativity to create shots despite the man-advantage.
The lone power play goal the Badgers managed to put in the back of the net against the Beavers came in the first period Friday, when freshman winger Nic Kerdiles put away a close range effort off a rebound after sophomore Brendan Woods’ original shot was blocked by the Beavers’ goaltender.
The goal – Kerdiles first career goal on the power play at Wisconsin – still wasn’t enough to satisfy an increasingly frustrated Wisconsin offense.
“We scored a goal,” junior center Mark Zengerle said. “But, for our unit in particular, we have to get the puck and sort it out quicker. We’ll be better if we can just get it in and get control of it. That’s probably the main thing.
“[Bemidji] had us down pretty good. They were just going into the corner, hitting the other corner and getting it out.”
Much like the free throw woes of the mens’ basketball team, Wisconsin hockey has spent countless hours at the rink during practice working out the kinks in their power play strategy, but actually executing those strategies – under the lights and in front of 10,000 fans in games has proved a bit more difficult for Badgers this year.
“Just getting pucks on net, just keep it simple,” freshman defenseman Kevin Schulze said of UW’s power play struggle. “Sometimes we try to do too much and it’s not there. Just get pucks to the net.”
“We’re going to give you the same answer,” Lee added. “We’re going to go back to work, we’re going to get pucks and bodies to the net, we’re going to try and keep it simple. That’s all we can do.”
Defense falters with McCabe out
With McCabe unavailable due to an ankle injury, junior defenseman Chase Drake stepped in as his replacement, but McCabe – who has developed into one of UW’s most consistent performers in a season full of ups and downs – proved a difficult contributor to replace.
Over the series, the Beavers took 27 shots on net Friday and 20 shots Saturday. While they would fail to outshoot the Badgers on either occasion, shaky play – especially as the game wore on – from UW’s defense kept Bemidji State in both games right until the final whistle.
“I didn’t think our defensemen played particularly well [Saturday],” Eaves said. “I thought they struggled with the puck for whatever reason.
“In soccer they talk about first touches on the ball. I thought a lot of times tonight we touched the puck and the very first thing it did was jump or hop on us and that led to some turnovers.”
With a pair of key matchups against rival Minnesota in the not-so-distant future, Eaves said hard work in practice will be imperative if the Badgers defense wants to hold up against the top-ranked Golden Gophers.
“We’re going to get back to work and do some of those things and just get back to some good habits,” Eaves said. ‘”We’re in the middle of a really tough stretch right now.”