Hockey Series Preview: Minnesota State

Wisconsin comes home to host a two-game series with WCHA opponent Minnesota State this weekend at the Kohl Center.

This town, this night, this crowd
Come on put em up
Let me hear it loud
This town, this city, this crowd
Stand up on your feet
Put your worry down
Any every one of you all around
Come on y'all let's take this town

O.A.R. -- This Town

The Wisconsin men's hockey team is back in town this weekend to host a WCHA series for just the second time this season. Their first kick at the can didn't go so well, as the Badgers' were swept by Colorado College three weeks ago.

In full desperation mode, Wisconsin will try to right the ship this weekend as Minnesota State rolls into Madison for a two-game set.

Through eight games this season, Wisconsin has recorded just one tally in the win column. So far the main issue has been a lack of goal scoring, as the Badgers' have registered just 14 goals in eight games. Wisconsin's 1.75 goal per game average is fifth worst in the country.

Thanks to injuries and NCAA eligibility issues, Badger bench boss Mike Eaves has yet to coach a game with a full stable of forwards this season. The lack of continuity has Eaves searching for the right pieces to the puzzle.

"Some of the chemistry is missing and guys are squeezing their sticks a little bit right now," Eaves said Monday.

If there was ever a time to bust out of their scoring slump it's this weekend. Minnesota State is giving up 3.20 goals per game (48th out of 59 teams).

While Wisconsin is coming off of a one point weekend at Minnesota, the Mavericks were idle last week. The previous weekend MSU was swept at home by WCHA leading Denver.

BADGER OFFENSE

As we detailed in a feature earlier this week, sophomore center Brendan Woods will see his role increased this weekend as the coaching staff tries to jump-start the offense.

While Woods has registered just seven shots on goal this season and has recorded only a single assist, he showed glimpses of busting out of an early season slump last weekend during Wisconsin's series at Minnesota.

The highlight play of the weekend for Woods came Saturday on a two-on-one short-handed rush with senior forward 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.

A fifth round draft pick by the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes, Woods can hold his own on both ends of the rink. Woods will center a line this weekend with top line wingers Joseph LaBate and Tyler Barnes. Eaves thinks he might be able to catch lightning in a bottle.

"He might be able to stimulate something there. So I think we're at that point we're going to give him a shot," Eaves said.

Wisconsin will still be without the services of Mark Zengerle (finger) and Nic Kerdiles (NCAA suspension). A new forward was added to the injury report this week as freshman winger Morgan Zulinick dinged up his leg in practice and is likely out for the weekend.

Junior Keegan Meuer will jump up in Zulinick's spot on a line with Derek Lee and Michael Mersch. Lee and Mersch were Wisconsin's top two forwards in Minneapolis last weekend, as Mersch notched his fifth and six goals of the season.

If Zulinick is officially scratched, look for junior Gavin Hartzog to make his season debut for the Badgers' this weekend. Hartzog started his UW career at forward, but has been practicing as a defenseman all season leading up to this point.

BADGER DEFENSE & GOALTENDERS

If you were searching for positives to take out of Wisconsin's series at Minnesota last weekend, you'd start on the defensive side of things. The Gophers' are one of the elite offensive clubs in the country, and Wisconsin held them to just three five-on-five goals for the entire weekend.

Additionally, Wisconsin showed major improvement on their penalty killing unit which came into the series as one of the worst in the nation. UW killed off nine of ten penalties on the weekend, including two five minute majors on Friday night.

The star of the weekend for Wisconsin was goaltender Landon Peterson. The sophomore recorded the best game of his Badger career, notching 41 saves in a 2-2 tie Friday night. Peterson was sharp the entire night, and certainly earned additional playing time. In fact, I'd be surprised if he didn't start at least one game this weekend.

Joel Rumpel wasn't too bad between the pipes himself Saturday night. Rumpel stopped 25 of 27 Gopher shots, but didn't get any help from his offense in a 3-1 loss (empty net goal).

MAVERICKS OFFENSE

The strength of Minnesota State's offense is down the middle as three of their top forwards (Matt Leitner, J.P. LaFontaine, & Teddy Blueger) will be centering their own lines this weekend.

Their top unit features a two headed combination of the sophomore Leitner, with junior Zach Lehrke. Leitner led the Mavericks in scoring last season as a freshman and is in the top spot again this season with a goal and nine assists through the first ten games of the season.

Minnesota State's second line has been hot recently. LaFontaine centers this unit and has seven points in his last four games after registering just one point through the seasons first six games. Senior right wing Eriah Hayes has chipped in a goal in his past two games as well.

Don't sleep on third line center Teddy Blueger either. The Latvian native who comes to the Maverick's via Shattuck St. Mary's prep school is a second round draft pick of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins and is very dangerous.

MAVERICKS DEFENSE & GOALTENDERS

As previously mentioned, Minnesota State's struggles this season have come on the back end of things. They're giving up a lot of goals, and a large reason has been inconsistent play between the pipes.

The Mavericks are still trying to find their go-to net-minder, as neither senior Phil Cook, nor freshman Stephon Williams have separated themselves from the pack. Cook has seen the majority of the action this season recording all three of the Maverick's wins, but carries an ugly looking .883 save percentage for the season.

Minnesota Sate's defensive stud is sophomore Zach Palmquist. The South St. Paul native has five points through ten games this season after recording 19 points in his freshman campaign.

Wisconsin Rapids native Josh Nelson has played in eight games for the Mavericks, registering two goals and an assist.

THREE KEY'S TO SUCCESS VS MINNESOTA STATE

  1. Move the puck on the power-play. As Eaves put it after last weekend, Wisconsin's power-play was anemic vs Minnesota. Eaves noted this week that he's going to try to tweak a few things in that department this week in hopes of generating more offense. Minnesota State currently has the sixth worst penalty kill in the country, and is taking the fourth most penalty minutes. That's a recipe for some goals if you ask me.
  2. Play physical, be agitators. So far this season Minnesota State hasn't proven that they are a disciplined team. If Wisconsin can be physical and get the crowd into things they can get the Mavericks frustrated, and with that comes stupid penalties.
  3. Play with Badger pride. At this point people are looking down their noses at Wisconsin. With just one win in eight games people are expecting this team to roll over this season and accept mediocrity. That's not happening. There's still a lot of season left to be played, and it starts with playing with pride this weekend in your own barn in front of your fans.

COVERAGE

Friday night's game can be seen live on FS Wisconsin, while Saturday's game will be on FS Wisconsin (+).

As always the games can be found on the radio on the Badger Sports Network and WIBA 1310.

POLLS

Wisconsin is not ranked in either poll

Minnesota State is receiving votes in the USCHO.com poll.

INJURIES

Mark Zengerle (finger) and Nic Kerdiles (NCAA suspension) are both out this weekend. Morgan Zulinick injured his leg in practice this week and is doubtful.

LAST MEETING

Wisconsin split last season at the Verizon Wireless Center in Mankato. Wisconsin won Friday night 4-0, but were shutout 3-0 on Saturday.

FUN FACT

Wisconsin junior forward Tyler Barnes has a sister (Lauren) who plays for Minnesota State's women's hockey team.

QUOTABLE

"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."-Mike Eaves on giving Brendan Woods a shot in a bigger role this weekend.

PREDICTION

You've got two desperate clubs in dire need of points. Personally, I'd rather take my chances on the desperate team with elite goaltending. I've got Wisconsin in a much needed sweep this weekend.

Friday Night: Wisconsin 3, Minnesota State 2

Saturday Night: Wisconsin 5, Minnesota State 3

For more Wisconsin hockey coverage, follow Andy on Twitter (@AndyJohnsonB5Q)

You can also reach Andy via e-mail (AndyJohnsonB5Q@gmail.com)

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