Brendan Woods will see time on Wisconsin's top line this weekend - Photo Credit: Larry Radloff/INCHWriters.com
With an anemic offense through eight games, Mike Eaves is juggling his lineup.
It's no secret that Wisconsin has had trouble putting goals up on the board this year. So far early in this young season, the Badgers' have registered just 14 goals in eight games. Wisconsin's 1.75 goal per game average is fifth worst in the country.
To steal a line from Wisconsin alternate captain Ryan Little, that's embarrassing.
Obviously, there's been some adversity here. Nic Kerdiles led the United States Under 18 team in scoring last season and thanks to a squabble with the NCAA hasn't played yet. He was projected as a 25-30 point player this season, and will finally return to the team after this weekends series vs Minnesota State.
Additionally, expected point producers Derek Lee and Mark Zengerle have combined to miss four-and-a-half games between them this season due to fluke injuries. Lee has since returned, but Zengerle is expected to be out at least a few more weeks with a broken finger.
The fact remains that they should be scoring more than they have regardless of who's in the lineup on a given night. During his weekly press conference Monday, Eaves publicly challenged junior top line winger Tyler Barnes.
"I think right now a guy like Tyler Barnes is really squeezing the stick hard," Eaves said. "I thought that was one of Tyler's least effective efforts on Saturday night (3-1 loss to Minnesota)."
"He's got one goal (this season), and he's a guy we rely on."
Without Zengerle available last weekend to center his top line, Eaves went with junior Jefferson Dahl who has six career goals and is pointless for the current season. Wisconsin was looking for some balance, but didn't generate much of anything outside of the line of Morgan Zulinick, Lee, and Michael Mersch.
In an effort to stimulate things this week, Eaves is giving sophomore Brendan Woods an opportunity between Joseph LaBate and Barnes in Zengerle's normal place.
When asked why he's giving Woods a shot on the top unit, Eaves noted that there's not many other combinations he can come up with at this point given the personnel available.
"A, we're running out of options," Eaves said. "And, B, there are glimpses that (Woods) -- he's not the most glamorous guy, but because of his size and his reach, and he can -- he sees the game pretty decently."
"He might be able to stimulate something there. So I think we're at that point we're going to give him a shot."
Woods hasn't generated much offense of his own this season, recording just a single assist through seven games. That said, Woods plays the type of game that might be able to ignite things for a guy like Barnes.
A fifth round draft pick by the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes, Woods showed his offensive upside on Saturday night on a two-on-one short-handed rush with Ryan Little. Woods was able to draw the defender to his side and threaded a pass to Little who was able to bury the Badgers' only goal of the night.
Little noted after the game that all he needed was "two hands and a pulse" to score thanks to the brilliant play by Woods.
Woods certainly can't fill the hole of what Zengerle brings to the table offensively, but it's a prime opportunity for a kid with a lot of potential to see expanded ice time in a crucial WCHA series at the Kohl Center this weekend.
Eaves also mentioned that they will evaluate the power-play this week as they are just 3 of 22 on the season (13.6%). After going scoreless on four opportunities Saturday vs Minnesota, Eaves called his power-play "anemic."
One player that Eaves mentioned may see an increased role this weekend is freshman defenseman Kevin Schulze. The White Bear Lake, Minn. native doesn't have a point on the season, but is the most talented skater on the team and has above average vision and puck skills that could be used effectively on Wisconsin's top unit.
If there was ever a weekend to breakout, it's now. Minnesota State is giving up 3.20 goals per game (48th in the country), and is having trouble finding consistent play out of their goaltenders. If Wisconsin can't score this weekend, I'm not sure they'll ever be able to.
One last newsworthy item, Andy Baggot from the Wisconsin State Journal tweeted Tuesday that freshman forward Morgan Zulinick suffered a leg injury in practice. Baggot said that "it didn't look good," but from what I was told it's not serious.
Hopefully we'll get an official update soon.
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