A struggling Wisconsin team coming off a stretch of underwhelming performances who’s status in the Big Ten and on the NCAA Tournament bubble uncertain welcomes a last-place Michigan State team to the Kohl Center and looks to re-energize itself in the first home series of the new year.
Deja vu, anyone?
The situation for the Badgers heading into their home faceoff with the Spartans could hardly be more similar to last year’s: 7-8-1 in 2016-17, 10-10-3 now; just one win in their previous five games for the previous team, while the current squad is winless in its last four.
That series sparked a turnaround for last year’s Badgers, with a pair of 5-1 victories that started an 11-4-0 midseason run that catapulted Wisconsin into Big Ten and tournament contention.
If this year’s team is to fulfill any of the expectations that surrounded it at the season’s opening, it will need a similar performance this weekend and in the weeks to come.
The much-improved defense that many observers expected hasn’t come to fruition for Wisconsin this year — UW is tied for 32nd in the nation with 3.00 goals allowed per game — and even the addition of All-American transfer goaltender Kyle Hayton hasn’t shored up the play between the pipes. The Badgers have shown the same defensive inconsistencies that gave head coach Tony Granato fits last season, and with three freshmen defensemen playing significant minutes, they’re likely to continue.
Offensively, however, Wisconsin has all the pieces necessary to put together a second-half run. UW has eight players with at least five goals this year, just one short of high-flying Penn State. All eight of those players have shown the ability to play at a high level at times this year, and if they can muster enough consistency for Granato to establish his lines, the Badgers’ offense could return to last season’s high-flying ways.
If Wisconsin’s offense is going to break out, it will likely be on the back of a resurgent performance by sophomore forward Trent Frederic. Frederic was second on the team in scoring last year and got out to a strong start this season with four goals and 10 points in his first nine games, but a recent slump has had him demoted to the third line. Last weekend provided a sign that the star sophomore might be breaking out: Frederic tallied four goals in the World Junior Championships bronze medal game, an offensive outburst that could get him — and thus the rest of the team — back on track offensively.
This weekend’s series against Michigan State, which ranks second-to-last in the conference defensively and has allowed 20 goals in its current four-game losing streak, provides the Badgers their last best shot to get their offense firing on all cylinders before they plunge back into the teeth of the Big Ten schedule. Last year’s team put up 10 goals on the Spartans in two games, and a similar offensive outburst seems possible for Wisconsin if Frederic and the rest of the team are getting back into their rhythm.