It would be really easy to look at Wisconsin's 2-16-4 record this season and pen a preview this week detailing how awful the Badgers have been. And while that's really tempting, it would be disingenuous to ignore the progress made last weekend against Minnesota.
While it didn't walk away with any wins, Wisconsin played some of its best hockey of the season in the series vs. the Gophers. As much as some people don't want to admit it, the Badgers have been making some progress of late.
A four-goal outburst from Minnesota on Friday doomed UW in the opener, but outside of the 100 seconds those goals were scored in, the Badgers out-chanced and out-played the Gophers much of the night. In Saturday's game, Wisconsin was two seconds away from victory before a late goal sent the finale to overtime, which eventually ended in a draw. UW took the extra conference point in a shootout.
The Badgers hope some of that progress carries over this weekend as they travel to Penn State for a two-game series in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions embarrassed UW earlier this season at the Kohl Center, sweeping the Badgers in convincing fashion.
With four remaining series on the road and just two at home, Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves noted this week learning how to win on the road can only help his young team as the Badgers are going to need to win the Big Ten tournament in Detroit at the end of the season to advance to the NCAA tournament.
"We have to become really good at solving that riddle on the road and get that feeling and that experience like we know what it takes," Eaves said. "Because in the end, to extend our season, we're going to have to do that."
While the Badgers still possess one of the weakest offensive attacks in the country this season, averaging just over two goals per game, they have been better of late.
Wisconsin has scored at least four goals in three of its past four games. While that in itself doesn't seem extremely impressive, the Badgers had just one game with at least four goals in a game over the first 18 games of the season.
UW tallied nine goals last weekend against the Gophers, with games of five and four goals, respectively. Prior to last weekend, Wisconsin's best weekend output offensively came against Ferris State, when the Badgers scored six goals on the weekend.
Grant Besse stayed hot last weekend against the Gophers, notching a pair of goals against his home-state school. Besse leads the Badgers with nine goals and 16 points, and has recorded six goals in his past six games.
Two Wisconsin forwards notched their first goals last weekend, as freshmen Cameron Hughes and Ryan Wagner both found the back of the net on Saturday night.
It should be noted that Wisconsin will be without the services of redshirt freshman forward Corbin McGuire for Friday's game. He has been suspended one game by the Big Ten for his hit on Minnesota's Connor Reilly.
Wisconsin defense and goaltenders
To say the Badgers had some defensive lapses last weekend would be an understatement. There's no sugar coating this one, Wisconsin had some real rough patches defensively against Minnesota.
From an outsiders perspective, it appeared UW couldn't match up man-to-man with the Gophers on the big ice surface in the defensive zone. The same thing happened when those two teams matched up a few weeks back in Minneapolis. Fortunately for the Badgers, this weekend's series at Penn State is being played on an NHL-sized ice surface.
On a positive note, I thought freshman Jack Dougherty showed flashes of why people think he's going to be Wisconsin's next great defenseman. He was strong in a lot of areas, and was even able to chip in on the offensive end. Dougherty scored in Friday's game, added an assist on Saturday, and now has six points in his past five games.
Kevin Schulze also provided some support on the offensive end for the Badgers last weekend, notching a goal and an asisst on the weekend. The junior defenseman now has five points in his last four games. Schulze also played in his 100th career game over the weekend, becoming the fifth player on the current roster to reach that mark. Seniors Joseph LaBate (137), Brad Navin (128), Matt Paape (110) and Joel Rumpel (104) are the others
Schulze has also been a shot-blocking machine this season. Schulze averages 3.05 blocks per game, 0.52 shots-per-game more than the next closest skater, Harvard defenseman Max Everson.
One key defensive stat to note this week is Wisconsin's success when it kills penalties properly. According to UW communications, the Badgers are 2-3-2 when they have a perfect night on the penalty kill, but 0-13-2 when they allow a conversion.
Penn State scouting report
The Nittany Lions are coming off a win last weekend at home against Vermont. The previous weekend, Penn State won and tied against Northern Michigan.
PSU has been strong in the Big Ten this season, going 5-2-1 to this point, which is second in winning percentage behind only league-leading Michigan, who is 7-2. Penn State split against the Wolverines earlier this season, and appears to be a realistic contender for the league title.
Leading the Nittany Lions this season has been forward Casey Bailey. The junior right winger ranks third nationally in goals with 18 and has been one of the best forwards in the country this season.
Bailey is joined on PSU's top line with center Taylor Holstrom, who leads the club in assists with 18, and David Goodwin, who is averaging one point per game this season with 11 goals and 12 assists in 23 games.
Junior Eric Scheid is second on the club in goals with 12, and freshman forward Scott Conway is another player to keep an eye on this weekend with 16 points as a rookie.
On the defensive side of things, junior Luke Juha combines with freshman Erik Autio to combine for a mobile pairing that can add offense as well.
Despite only playing in five games so far this season, PJ Musico is expected to start between the pipes for the Nittany Lions Friday night. The junior has played in Penn State's last three games, earning two victories and a tie in the process.
By the numbers
||2-16-4 (0-6-2-2 Big Ten)
||13-7-4, (5-2-1-0 Big Ten)|
||tied - No. 21
||5'11.89, 187.59 pounds||6'0.70, 198.59 pounds
||21 years, 2 months
||22 years, 8 months|
Friday's game will be televised on BTN with an early 5:30 p.m. CT puck drop. Saturday's game will be televised on the American Sports Network with a 1:00 p.m. CT puck drop. For more information on how to watch Saturday's game, follow this link.
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.
Wisconsin is not ranked.
Penn State is receiving votes in the USCHO.com poll.
Wisconsin: None, but Corbin McGuire is suspended one game for his hit last weekend against Minnesota.
Penn State: None.
Penn State swept the Badgers at the Kohl Center earlier this season.
Wisconsin's power play has gone 12-for-56 (21.4 percent) over the last 15 games to increase its overall percentage on the season to 15.3 percent. The Badgers started the season 1-for-29 with the extra attacker.
Ryan Wagner - Joseph LaBate - Grant Besse
Morgan Zulinick - Cameron Hughes - Jedd Soleway
Matt Ustaski - Adam Rockwood - Brad Navin
Aidan Cavallini - Matt Paape - Jason Ford
Kevin Schulze - Jake Linhart
Eddie Wittchow - Jack Dougherty
Tim Davison - Chase Drake
Joel Rumpel - Landon Peterson
Badger Hockey Digest
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