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Wisconsin hockey series preview: Michigan

This weekend features a dynamic contest between the No. 1 scoring offense (Michigan) against the No. 53 defensive team (Wisconsin).

Zach Hyman leads the Wolverines with 48 points in just 28 games this season.
Zach Hyman leads the Wolverines with 48 points in just 28 games this season.
Richard T Gagnon -- Getty Images

It's hard to forget what happened when Wisconsin and Michigan squared off at the Kohl Center last month. A struggling Badgers squad took a 3-1 lead into the first intermission and even jumped out 4-1 early in the second period. It appeared for a moment as if an upset was in the future.

Then reality set in. The Wolverines finished the game by scoring six unanswered to go on to a 7-4 win. The team in Maize and Blue would go on to blank UW in the finale, 6-0, scoring an unprecedented run of 12 straight goals to end the series.

Wisconsin will get a chance for revenge this weekend, although the task is a tall one. Michigan is one of the best home teams in the nation this year with a 10-2 record at Yost Ice Arena, which includes wins in its last eight games at home.

The Wolverines also feature one of the top offenses in the nation, ranking No. 1 in the country in goals per game at 3.96. Over the past 10 games, Michigan is averaging 4.50 goals per game which ranks second behind only Michigan Tech (4.90).

Wisconsin offense

While Michigan has the best offense in the country, the Badgers rank on the other end of the spectrum. Wisconsin ranks 53rd out of 59 teams in scoring offense, averaging 1.93 goals per game. UW has been slightly better of late, averaging 2.20 goals per game over its past 10 games, which ranks 45th in the country.

Leading the way offensively over Wisconsin's most recent stretch of games has been Grant Besse and Joseph LaBate, to no one's surprise. Besse is averaging one point per game over his last 10 (four goals, six assists), while LaBate has four goals and seven points over that same period.

In an attempt to generate more offense, head coach Mike Eaves has continued to mix his lineups over the past few weeks. The Badgers will start this weekend's series with LaBate and Besse on seperate lines, but don't be surprised to see them reunited if Eaves feels the need at some point in this series.

Freshmen Cameron Hughes and Adam Rockwood have been playing better over the past month or so and are starting to show consistent flashes of why they were so highly recruited before they got to Madison. Hughes has points in four of his past six games and Rockwood has a pair of goals in his last five after scoring just one in his first 19.

If the Badgers are going to score with Michigan this weekend they are going to need more production from Morgan Zulinick, who has just five points (all assists) in his last 10 games. Zulinick has the talent to be a productive player and Wisconsin will need all hands on deck this weekend.

Wisconsin defense and goaltenders

Joel Rumpel will have his hands full between the pipes this weekend against a Michigan team that loves to shoot the puck. The Wolverines rank 7th in the nation in shots on goal per game (33.96). Combine that with a Wisconsin defensive core that gives up the third-most shots on goal per game (36.14) and we've got a recipe for disaster.

The biggest key for the Badgers is adjusting to the small ice surface early on Friday night. Yost is a 200x85 sheet which is smaller than what Wisconsin plays on at the Kohl Center (200x97) or practices on at LaBahn (200x90). UW has played some games on smaller surfaces of late at Penn State and Ohio State that should help the transition at Yost this weekend. That said, Michigan is a different beast entirely and once they get buzzing and pinging pucks around it can make your head spin in a hurry.

One nice trend from the defensemen is the added offense recently. Kevin Schulze and Chase Drake both scored goals on Friday against Michigan State which was a pleasant surprise. Schulze has been really good over his past 10 games with a pair of goals and eight points, which is second behind just Besse over the same stretch of games.

Michigan scouting report

I've already laid out how effective Michigan has been on the offensive end this season and that's no joke. Up front Zach Hyman is having a Hobey Baker-type season with 18 goals and 43 points in 28 games. He ranks second in the country in points per game (1.54), and if it weren't for a kid named Jack Eichel leading the nation in that category, we'd probably be talking more about the senior winger having a breakout season.

Potentially even more impressive has been the play of freshman center Dylan Larkin. The Detroit Red Wings first-round draft pick last summer ranks second behind only Eichel in freshman scoring with 38 points in 28 games. Larkin has been a monster of late, averaging two points per game over his last 10 games which is tied for best in the nation along with Boston University's Evan Rodrigues.

Michigan's problems lay on the defensive side of the puck, as the Wolverines give up three goals per game which ranks 40th in the nation. They haven't been much better lately either, giving up 3.30 goals per game in the past 10.

A big part of those problems come between the pipes, where Zach Nagelvoort and Steve Racince have been consistently inconsistent. The guess here is they go with Racine this weekend, as he played fairly well against Ohio State last time out, although his .901 save percentage and 3.23 goals-against average can't leave the Yost faithful with much confidence.

By the numbers


WISCONSIN MICHIGAN
RECORD
4-20-4, (2-10-2-2 Big Ten) 17-11-0, (9-5-0 Big Ten)
SCORING OFFENSE
1.93/gm
3.96/gm
SCORING DEFENSE
3.79/gm
3.00/gm
POWER PLAY
13.70% 23.2%
PENALTY KILL
75.20%
81.9%
PAIRWISE RANKING
No. 55
No. 19
RPI
No. 55
No. 19
KRACH
No. 51
No. 18
AVG. HEIGHT/WEIGHT
5'11.89, 187.59 pounds 6'0.52, 196.04 pounds
AVG. AGE
21 years, 3 months
21 years, 0 months

Coverage

Friday's game begins at 6:30 p.m. CT and airs on Fox Sports Wisconsin and Fox Sports Detroit Plus. Saturday's contest is scheduled for a 3 p.m. CT start on BTN.

Both games will stream for free on BTN2Go.com.

As always, Brian Posick will call the games on the radio this weekend. You can find his call on WIBA 1310 and also on the Badger Radio Network.

Polls

Wisconsin is not ranked.

Michigan is ranked No. 17 in the USCHO.com poll and is receiving votes in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.

Injuries

Wisconsin: Matt Ustaski is out with a foot injury.

Last meeting

Michigan swept the Badgers at the Kohl Center earlier this season 7-4, 6-0.

Fun fact

Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves' brother, Murray, played at Michigan (1978-80).

Projected lineup

Joseph LaBate-Adam Rockwood-Jedd Soleway
Morgan Zulinick-Cameron Hughes-Grant Besse
Brad Navin-Ryan Wagner-Corbin McGuire
Aidan Cavallini-Matt Paape-Jason Ford

Eddie Wittchow-Jack Dougherty
Kevin Schulze-Jake Linhart
Tim Davison-Chase Drake

Joel Rumpel - Landon Peterson

Badger Hockey Digest

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