It's the problem with no obvious solution. Wisconsin continues to out-shoot its opponents at a massive rate (on Friday, it was 53-17), but can't seem to find a way to get the puck in the back of the net with any consistency.
The Badgers pepper the net. They've changed up the lines. They've worked on shooting with purpose to leave rebound opportunities. What's the solution to fix a problem when they're doing all the things they're supposed to do to end this issue that's hanging over their head. But the goal drought has continued.
The frustration of a season of goal-scoring struggles is clear when talking both to the players and coach Mark Johnson. What's a coach to do in an on-going situation like this? He can't make the puck find the net. He can't change that the Badgers have seen some of their opponents' best goalkeeping performances.
"That’s the tough thing about our sport. The other goaltender was better than all the shots we took today...You look at our second-half, there are some kids that have struggled from a point- or goal-production standpoint. A lot of our games have been very tight and our room for error is very low. That makes the game a little more challenging. You would hope at some point some of the kids would break out and start scoring. The big thing is to keep working and keep pushing themselves and keep creating scoring opportunities. If we do that, hopefully things will take care of themselves," said Johnson.
The St. Cloud goal came on a Badger turnover in front of the crease and they quickly capitalized. It was possibly the only legitimate scoring chance the Huskies had in the first two periods and they took advantage.
That's not to demean the Huskies, but to say that despite the final score and the scoring frustrations, the Badgers were still the better team on the ice on Friday. Wisconsin took a timeout halfway through the third period and from their, held possession like it was an extended power play, even when on the penalty kill. They peppered the net, moved the puck and generally did all the things you want to see from your team when they're down in the final minutes. That response is exactly what a fan should hope to see and is the thing that should allow them to keep their spirits up.
Wisconsin did manage a goal with just 15.6 seconds left when sophomore Sarah Nurse took a shot from the left circle and freshman Annie Pankowski was able to slot home the rebound. St. Cloud State had added an empty-netter with 1:01 to go, so the final score was 2-1, with Wisconsin ending it's 22-game win streak against the Huskies.
The Badgers will face St. Cloud for at least three more games over the next week, as the Huskies are Wisconsin's first-round opponent in the WCHA playoffs. With that in mind, Friday's game was more the battle then the overall war and how the Badgers respond to the loss will be crucial in figuring out their post-season fate.
"Sunday’s game will be one that we need to come out in the first eight or 10 minutes and try to establish something – try to score. If you’re able to do that, the group probably will relax as a whole and continue to play well the rest of the game. Right now it’s just about coming out and trying to win the first period on Sunday and try to do things as simple as possible right now," said Johnson.
The increased parity of teams in the WCHA this season has meant the Badgers scoring woes are magnified. Where in other seasons the gap between them and their opponents was wider, with improvements to other programs the margin is much smaller.
"A lot of our games have been very tight and our room for error is very low. That makes the game a little more challenging. You would hope at some point some of the kids would break out and start scoring. The big thing is to keep working and keep pushing themselves and keep creating scoring opportunities. If we do that, hopefully things will take care of themselves," said Johnson.
It will be interesting to see how the Badgers respond. They've now lost two in a row to two of the bottom three teams in the conference.
Coach Johnson mixed up his lines again, putting his veterans, reinstating the top line with veterans Blayre Turnbull, Brittany Ammerman and Katy Josephs. The second line featured freshman Annie Pankowski and Emily Clark with speedster Sarah Nurse. But the change didn't solve any woes.
Johnson will not be with the team for film reviewing on Saturday as he has commitments with USA Hockey and the Miracle on Ice team for Hockey Weekend Across America in Lake Placid.