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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Wins are wins: What we learned from Wisconsin’s sweep of LIU

Wisconsin earned their first two home victories of the season this past weekend amid a season fraught with disappointment. Will the two wins create momentum, or are they simply aberrations?

This past weekend, Wisconsin finally won in front of their home crowd. The Badgers swept Long Island University in two highly contested games.

While winning is great for the team’s confidence, the weekend series left much to be desired. Here is what we learned from Wisconsin’s series sweep over LIU. 

Power play struggles continue

In yet another power play-rich series, the Badgers were able to convert only one of their eight opportunities. This drops Wisconsin to 11.1% on the year with a numbers advantage, which ranks 52nd out of 60 in the nation. 

Part of Wisconsin’s power play trouble stems from their inability to get shots on goal. During the LIU series, Wisconsin’s shot attempts were repeatedly blocked before reaching the goal. Wisconsin tallied eight shots on goal on eight power plays throughout the two games. If Wisconsin wants to see success with the man advantage, they need to start getting pucks through to the net. 

In past series, Wisconsin struggled with shooting the puck. Their puck movement was impressive, but they failed to actually challenge goaltenders. Wisconsin’s evolution to getting shots blocked is a welcome adjustment. Now, the team needs to combine the puck movement with quick decision making to register shots and, hopefully, goals. 

Neutral zone errors are costly

Wisconsin is a team that tries to play aggressively in transition. They strive to move through the neutral zone quickly to catch defenses out of position. However, in order to play with this style, Wisconsin cannot afford many mistakes between the blue lines. 

During the LIU series, Wisconsin and LIU both failed to assert dominance in the neutral zone — leading to numerous turnovers from both teams. Wisconsin seemed to make decisions slightly late in their efforts to move through the neutral zone. This led to some possession-costing errors. 

Additionally, LIU was able to capitalize on one key turnover in the second game. Following a turnover just past the Wisconsin blue line, LIU players found themselves with space as Wisconsin tried to make a line change. This cost the Badgers as they conceded a goal. 

If Wisconsin wants to play their aggressive style, they need to clean up their neutral zone errors. Without cleaner play between the blue lines, Wisconsin will continue to struggle in transition. 

Lack of discipline

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So far this season, Wisconsin has played 12 games and collected 135 penalty minutes for an average of 11.25 minutes per game. Comparing Wisconsin’s tally to the number one ranked team in the nation shows how discipline is essential to top teams. Denver has played 12 games and recorded 98 penalty minutes — an average of 8.17 minutes per game. 

The undisciplined nature of this Wisconsin team has created a plethora of issues, the first of which being how often penalties come after strong offensive zone shifts. After having maintained pressure in the offensive zone, Wisconsin cannot afford to take a penalty considering their offensive struggles thus far. Allowing opponents to have a man advantage after building momentum cannot be tolerated with a struggling offense. 

A second problem facing Wisconsin is their penalty kill percentage. Wisconsin currently kills 78.7% of their penalties. This ranks them 37th out of 60 in the nation. Until they have consistency on offense, Wisconsin cannot afford to concede goals at such a high rate. 

Simplicity creates opportunity

Wisconsin scored seven goals on the weekend against LIU — their largest tally since they scored eight in two games against Duluth on Oct. 21 and Oct. 22. What made this weekend so productive for the Badgers was how the offense found success with simplicity. 

On multiple occasions, Wisconsin was able to create quick offense through a smooth zone entry. What made the entry smooth was how simple they chose to play. Finding easy passes and driving the net created opportunities which the Badgers seized. 

Furthermore, Wisconsin utilized a low cycle where they controlled the puck in a corner of the offensive zone, found space in front of LIU’s goal and slipped passes through the Shark defense — creating more opportunity. 

The zone entry strategy used by the Badgers, as well as the low cycle, are fundamental hockey plays. Wisconsin needs to maintain this simple style that led to victories over LIU. 

Wisconsin can win

One of the biggest takeaways for fans and the team alike has to be that Wisconsin can not only win, but they can win close games. The Badgers have played some tough competition this year, including four teams currently ranked in the top 20. In three of those four series, Wisconsin has played at least one game where they lost by one goal. 

Losing close against top teams is demoralizing. Knowing how close the team came to winning, but ultimately falling short, is not a welcome feeling. To finally have the shoe on the other foot must build some confidence. 

Wisconsin’s sweep of LIU could be a building block for the rest of their season. While LIU was outclassed by Wisconsin, the close games provided an atmosphere where Wisconsin had to persevere and hopefully build some confidence. 

This weekend’s two game series against Lindenwood will provide the Badgers with another opportunity to build upon the Long Island series and find more success. 

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