In their first games of the new year, Wisconsin showed a similar level of inconsistency to what had become the norm in 2022. The Badgers defeated Notre Dame on Friday in dominating fashion. Saturday night, however, Wisconsin looked vastly inferior to the very same team.
Wisconsin’s inability to produce strong results in consecutive games has become an expectation this season. Far too often, the Badgers have played well for stretches only to fall apart spectacularly. Their fatal inconsistency must be solved before any steady improvement in their record can be expected.
Here’s what we learned from another tumultuous weekend for Wisconsin.
Wisconsin must finish
Despite winning the first game against Notre Dame on Friday night, the Badgers could have won by a far greater margin than just two goals. Wisconsin had numerous opportunities to score goals against Notre Dame, but they failed to convert repeatedly in front of the net.
Additionally, one of Wisconsin’s goals was incredibly ugly. Defenseman Corson Ceulemans appeared to dump the puck on net, and it somehow trickled between the legs of Notre Dame goalie Ryan Bischel. Nine times out of 10, that does not result in a goal, and Wisconsin is in an even tighter game. Their offense needs to produce when they have opportunities — not just luck.
Wisconsin has scored 56 goals in 22 games this season — ranking 43rd in the nation. If they want to turn their season around, repeatedly missing opportunities against Notre Dame is not a good way to correct the trend.
Winter break took a toll
Part of the inconsistency Wisconsin displayed appeared to be due to fatigue and a lack of conditioning. Starting in the third period of Friday’s game, Wisconsin started to look exhausted. Despite dominating the first and second periods, Notre Dame was able to fight back and take control of the puck.
Wisconsin’s tired legs were evident by their inability to consistently win races to the puck or battles along the boards. This gave Notre Dame the upper hand and made Wisconsin play stronger defense.
Wisconsin’s sluggishness continued on Saturday, where Notre Dame dominated most of the game. The first period was especially lopsided as the Badgers conceded four goals.
Luckily, fatigue can be prevented. With some extra conditioning, Wisconsin can hopefully sustain the level of play displayed in the first two periods of the weekend.
Continued power play production
Remarkably, the power play was a bright spot all weekend for the Badgers. Wisconsin entered the weekend operating at 16.5% efficiency on the power play, ranking 45th in the nation. They ended up scoring five power play goals in two games.
If Wisconsin is able to maintain this level of production from their power play units, their offense could be more potent and create breathing room for more defensive mistakes.
Wisconsin has been held back when playing with an advantage thus far and needed a weekend like the one they just had to re-energize the power play. Hopefully, with newfound confidence, the power play can turn over a new leaf for the rest of the season.
Let Cruz cook
Cruz Lucius currently leads the Badgers in goals (8) and assists (15). Of Wisconsin’s six goals total on the weekend, Lucius finished with five assists. Adding to his impressive weekend was the pace at which he recorded the assists — Lucius assisted on four goals in under 18 minutes in Saturday’s loss.
All of Lucius’ assists came on the power play, showing that he has found a home within the system. Keeping Lucius on the power play was a great benefit to the Badgers, and keeping him confident and distributing the puck should lead to more success.
Lucius’ impressive weekend was also recognized by being named the Big Ten’s second star of the week. Hopefully, Lucius is able to stay hot and continue producing for the Badgers.
Aggression is the only way
When Wisconsin played their best hockey, they were playing on the front foot with an attacking style. When they pressured Notre Dame, the Badgers were able to force mistakes and create more offensive opportunities. These traits allowed Wisconsin to be successful.
This style of play, however, contributed to the tiredness the Badgers displayed. If the Badgers want to be successful, they must continue to implement an offensive-minded style of play. They should be able to reach a level of conditioning where they can maintain that style.
If Wisconsin can consistently play with an offensive style, they could still win some games in the very competitive Big Ten this season. After the start they had, it would be a definite improvement.
Wisconsin’s next Big Ten opponent is Ohio State, who come to the Kohl Center Jan. 20-21 after Wisconsin hosts the United States Under-18 team in an exhibition. Wisconsin will look to get revenge against Ohio State, who swept them in the first series of the season.