Five-on-five, Wisconsin played well enough. It battled for loose pucks, tracked back to shut down odd-man rushes, and got traffic in front of the net to disrupt the opposing goaltender’s eyes and rhythm.
The Badgers allowed a goal, but they scored one, too. It wasn’t a stellar performance, but it was good enough to have a chance at a win.
That chance disappeared with No. 14 Wisconsin’s performance on the penalty kill Friday night, as the Badgers (0-0-0 Big Ten, 3-2-0 overall) allowed five power play goals to Michigan Tech (0-0-0 WCHA, 1-2-0) in a 6-2 loss.
“Obviously our special teams didn’t go as planned,” senior defenseman Peter Tischke said. “They were outworking us; they were winning the battles.”
By the time the final buzzer sounded, Wisconsin had committed eight penalties, including two majors that left it shorthanded for nearly 10 minutes.
The penalty-box trouble started early when — playing with a 1-0 lead after senior forward Seamus Malone put a shot through two screens to beat former teammate Matt Jurusik — freshman defenseman Ty Emberson and sophomore forward Tarek Baker committed a pair of penalties on the same play.
Their infractions left Wisconsin facing two minutes of three-on-five play, and although the penalty killers staved off the initial danger — highlighted by a highlight-reel save by Berry with the very edge of his glove — the Huskies found the net after one minute and 54 seconds of power play pressure.
That goal, and the extended penalty kill time spent pinned in the defensive own zone, seemed to sap the Badgers of their early momentum.
“It definitely threw things off ... If we kill that penalty then the momentum is gained our way,” Malone said. “We just didn’t have enough toughness to bounce back from that and that’s where we got thrown off.”
Baker’s penalty was especially costly for the Badgers, as he was assessed a game misconduct for elbowing, leaving Wisconsin with just 11 forwards for the final 56 minutes of the game.
After playing four games without a single line change among the forward group, the Badgers were left scrambling to fill the gap at center, all while having to kill several Michigan Tech penalties.
“We lose Baker early; that puts a hole down the middle for us. That’s a big penalty killer, a big energy guy and a guy that can skate,” Granato said. “We needed that speed through the middle of the ice tonight.”
With Baker out and the Badgers scrambling, the power plays — and the goals — just kept coming for Michigan Tech.
A charging call on sophomore defenseman Tyler Inamoto followed by a Tommy Parratino goal to put the Huskies up 2-1 just after midway through the first period. A slash on sophomore defenseman Josh Ess and another for Michigan Tech to go up 4-1. Another major, this time on sophomore forward Sean Dhooghe for grabbing the facemask, that led to two MTU goals in just 16 seconds, killing any hopes the Badgers had of climbing back into the game.
Nearly every time Wisconsin began to generate momentum, they went back on the penalty kill, and often down another goal.
“It carried over in our five-on-five play,” Granato said. “You can’t play where you’re taking penalties at key situations of the game.”
When the dust settled, the Huskies had racked up five power play goals on their eight chances, netting nearly half of the 12 man-advantage shots they attempted.
The four-goal loss was Wisconsin’s first home defeat of the season. The Badgers return to face Michigan Tech Saturday at 7 p.m.