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With Zengerle Struggling, Eaves Shuffles Forward Lines

Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves noted Monday that he'll flip centers Derek Lee and Mark Zengerle to stimulate the offense.

Wisconsin will flip-flop centers on their top two lines this week.
Wisconsin will flip-flop centers on their top two lines this week.
Photo Credit: Larry Radloff Photography

Coming into the 2012-13 season, Wisconsin's Mark Zengerle was considered a Hobey Baker candidate. After all, Zengerle was consistently elite last year, and at one point even had a 20 game point scoring streak. Additionally, his 50 points were the most of any player returning to college hockey this season.

The junior center was also highly thought of within the league, as he received multiple votes from both the coaches and the media for WCHA pre-season player of the year.

Things haven't exactly gone to plan for Zengerle this season, however. After putting up six points in Wisconsin's first six games, Zengerle suffered a severe finger injury vs Colorado College Nov. 3rd that required surgery. Zengerle missed six games while on the shelf recovering from the injury.

Since Zengerle's return to the lineup, the team has played better as a whole. In fact, the Badgers reeled off an impressive 11 game unbeaten streak that started the week before Zengerle returned to the lineup.

Despite the team's success, Zengerle and his line-mates Nic Kerdiles and Tyler Barnes have failed to live up to expectations on the offensive end. Since his return to the lineup, Zengerle has recorded just one goal and four assists in 10 games.

Combined, the trio has notched just 6 goals over the past ten games that they've played together as a unit. Considering the three players on the line are some of the most offensively gifted on the Wisconsin roster, it's been puzzling as to why they haven't been able to be more effective.

"The production hasn't been there," Zengerle said after Saturday's 2-1 loss to Miami. "That's something that we have to figure out. We're working on it, we're trying, obviously we know that we're not making it happen and it's frustrating for all three of us."

It's not as if the effort isn't there. All three players on the unit are some of the hardest working players, night-in, night-out. They've even shown flashes at times of busting out, dominating long stretches of action in both Anchorage and Mankato recently.

After Saturday night's game Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves noted that they've been doing good things, they just lack finish.

"They're just a little off," Eaves said. "A quicker shot, getting good wood on the puck, having the puck in your wheelhouse when you're going to take your one-timer, they're sniffing, they're knocking, they're there, it's just another step to finish."

However the goals haven't been coming, and after reviewing the film over the weekend the coaching staff has decided to make a change to try and stimulate the offense. Eaves noted during his weekly press conference Monday morning that they're going to break up the Kerdiles-Zengerle-Barnes line for the time being.

"I think they're pressing too hard," Eaves said. "Sometimes you just have to get away from each other."

The change is a simple one, as senior Derek Lee will flip-flip Zengerle. Lee had been centering a line with Joseph Labate and Michael Mersch. The move isn't without risk, as the Lee line had been Wisconsin's most effective scoring threat during their unbeaten streak.

"I think we have to do something like that," Eaves noted Monday. "(The LaBate-Lee-Mersch line) are playing so well together, if we don't like what we see we know we can go back and have that."

"It's a selfless thing to do to try to stimulate other people on the team."

At this point the change makes sense. Despite their long unbeaten streak, Wisconsin had struggled to put goals on the board on a consistent basis. For the season, Wisconsin is averaging just 2.23 goals per game which ranks them 50th in the country out of 59 teams.

That number is down considerably from their 2.84 goals per game last season. Considering the only offensive threat they lost off of last years team was Justin Schultz, it's fair to wonder if a tweak here or there could be the spark this team needs to wake up the offense.

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