Photo Credit: Larry Radloff/INCHWriters.com
Last week I introduced our first 'I think I think' article. As I said then, I'll hopefully produce one of these every week that the Badgers play this season. As I also mentioned, some weeks I could just have one thing to talk about, while other weeks I may have ten.
This weekend Wisconsin came into their home opener with high expectations coming off a three point series on the road at Minnesota-Duluth. However, the Badgers struggled on their home ice, and were swept by Colorado College.
To make matters worse, Wisconsin learned that they would be without top line center Mark Zengerle for the foreseeable future as he broke his finger and is out 5-6 weeks.
1.) Eaves needs to dump his new 1-1-3 forecheck.
Everyone knows that leading scorer Mark Zengerle was injured on Saturday, but the Badgers had struggled to score this season even with him in the lineup.
Through six games Wisconsin is just 49th in the country in scoring, averaging a meager 1.83 goals per game.
The Badgers have been running a 1-1-3 system this season, instead of their traditional 1-2-2. Through six games, their new system doesn't seem to be working, so I hope Eaves will adjust and bring back what's familiar. This Badger club has offensive weapons on the roster if they use them.
The problem with the 1-1-3 system is that everyone seems to be sitting back and playing defense. Before the season Eaves talked about how this would create more pressure. Well, it seems to have provided the exact opposite.
If the opposition gains possession in the defensive zone the first two forwards from Wisconsin are supposed to force them into making a bad pass where the other players on the ice can create a turnover.
The problem is that Wisconsin's initial forechecker's are too passive, and the opposition has easy passes out of the zone where they can break out and move up the ice.
Sure, Wisconsin isn't getting beat on odd man rushes, but they aren't creating any offense either. It's a lazy system that has looked awful most of the season.
2.) Eaves criticisms of the ice size wasn't an excuse, it was a statement.
After Friday night's game Eaves brought up the size of the Kohl Center ice in relation to what his club had been practicing on so far this season at the LaBahn Arena.
If you're not familiar, the Kohl Center ice surface is 200 feet (length) by 97 (width). The new La Bahn facility is 200 by 90.
According to Eaves, the Badgers hadn't practiced on the Kohl Center ice since early October, and he felt that played a factor in his teams play this weekend.
"We haven't skated on this sheet of ice in forever--beginning of October--and it looked like it at times. It's (seven) feet wider, but when you multiply that by 200 feet that's a lot more square feet. We looked like at times we had bad gap, and it made things a little more difficult for me. It's not an excuse, it's a reason. We need to fix it and get going."
His team didn't use the same excuse, in fact sophomore defenseman Jake McCabe mentioned that they should be able to adjust to the rink size.
"Our systems have to adapt to the different dimensions of the rink. We can't use it as an excuse."
A lot of fans got on Eaves case when he brought this up. Many blasted him for using it as an excuse for his teams performance against a mediocre Colorado College team.
Personally, I don't think that Eaves was using it as an excuse, but as a wake up call to the administration.
Sure, the La Bahn facility is great, and the Badgers should be using it for practice when they are going to play on an NHL size ice surface for that weeks games. But when they are playing at home in their next series, or an an Olympic style ice surface, they need to practice at the Kohl Center which is much wider.
I think that Eaves post game comments were simply stating to the powers that be that hey, we know that the basketball team needs to play and practice at the Kohl Center too, but we need to get our time in there as well if you want us to win hockey games.
3.) Wisconsin needs to find other faceoff options sans Zengerle.
One of the most underrated aspects of hockey is how teams handle faceoffs. So far this season the Badgers have done an admirable job in the circle, winning 170 draws and losing 167. Obviously you'd always like to win more than you lose.
The problem that the Badgers are going to face for the next 5-6 weeks is how they will handle faceoffs without their top centerman.
Zengerle was their top guy on draws, taking 35% of the faceoffs for the Badgers so far this season. In his 119 draws, Zengerle was 61-58. Not what you'd like out of a premier center, but not bad either.
Most likely you'll see Derek Lee step up in Zengerle's spot on the top line, but the problem is that he's struggled on draws so far this season. Lee has only played in four games, but he's just 19-28 on draws early on. He's going to have to be much better during Zengerle's absence.
I'd also look for junior Jefferson Dahl to see more time taking faceoffs. Dahl is 37-35 on the year, but saw his workload increase on the dot this weekend after Zengerle was injured. Dahl was 12-3 vs CC on Saturday night, and could be an important piece for the Badgers over the next few weeks.
Also keep an eye on Keegan Meuer (19-13), and Morgan Zulinick (7-7) as options if guys like Lee and Brendan Woods (11-13) struggle.
4.) Look for Morgan Zulinick to step up in Zengerle's absence.
Nic Kerdiles grabbed most of the headlines with this years Wisconsin freshman class, and rightfully so. The Irvine, California native was the leading scorer from least years United States under-18 team, and was a second round NHL draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks.
What the casual fan overlooked, was how talented fellow freshman Morgan Zulinick was in this recruiting class.
Zulinick, a 5'11, 185 pound forward came to the Badgers from the Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the British Columbia Hockey League where he produced two productive seasons.
The Kamloops, B.C. native produced 95 points in 95 career games for Salmon Arm, and led the Silverbacks in scoring last season with 66 points in 57 games as a 17 year old.
Zulinick certainly needs some fine tuning in the defensive areas of his game, but his offensive skills are undeniable. Already this season he's made Badger fans get up on their feet from amazing plays he's made with his NHL caliber hands.
Sure, Zulinick is no Zengerle at this point in his career, but look for Eaves to lean on his young forward for a little more offense while Zengerle is out of the lineup with his broken finger.
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