Sunday, October 19, 2008

Badger Men: Weekend Recaps and Random Thoughts

Not a good weekend for the boys, and by necessity I'll start with the depressing game recaps . . .

Of course, being who I am, it's a bit out of character for me to focus on the negatives, so despite the depressing nature of the recaps, my random thoughts will include some positives . . .

FRIDAY NIGHT: Denver 6 - Wisconsin 5 (Box)
What's going on here? Would that Badgers rather lose 8-7 than win 1-0? (And for that matter, would the gophers now rather win 1-0 than lose 8-7? The gophs aren't exactly scoring as many goals as they characteristically do.)

The 1st period was crazy -- Denver outshot the Badgers 25-4, and the Badgers looked completely out of their league. Yet somehow (thank you, Shane Connelly) the Badgers got out of that period tied 1-1. The Badgers then played much better in the second, going up 4-1, and ending the 2nd with a 4-2 lead. And then they blew it. Too many SOG on poor Shane, and he was just too tired. Despite the 6 goals allowed, and despite Eaves' accurate remarks that Connelly "could've been sharper at the end", Connelly wasn't the problem Friday night. With Cons having to face 52 SOG, including 22 from the quality scoring area, Eaves said, "Who can blame him?".

What WAS the problem Friday night? Andy Baggot does a pretty good job of cataloging the issues -- taking too many penalties, iffy special teams, excessive mistakes in transition, allowing too many SOG by our opponent, and poor defensive play on the blueline -- the last two were highlighted by Eaves. I've already shared his remarks about Connelly's situation; about the defensemen, Eaves said, "There's no hiding it. We have to get better."

Baggot also points out that the Badgers appeared to be out of their element in a run-and-gun, uptempo game.

In the uscho Friday recap, Eaves again remarks on Connelly's workload, as well as stick battles and speed on the ice: "A lot of it came down to stick battles. I think they won more stick battles, especially in the third period [and] they beat us up ice quite a bit tonight so those are a couple contributing factors. And, I think Shane got tired tonight."

In his Friday game-day blog, Todd Milewski also remarks, "You name it, and UW was probably guilty of it." He points out that the Badgers were called for their 3rd "too-many-men" penalty of the season in just their 3rd game, and it's starting to feel a bit like last year when the Badgers took way too many "too-many-men" penalties. In the same blog, he says, "Wisconsin simply can't continue to give away leads", and again, it's starting to feel a bit like last year, losing games that we could've won.

Last night, when I asked Todd how on earth the Badgers allowed a gazillion SOG, he said "a lot of running around in the defensive zone, as far as I can tell".

Here's Milewski's game story. A couple of excerpts -- About the poor defensive play, Jake Gardiner said, "That's supposed to be the strong point of our game. It starts with the defense. We're not playing up to our potential." And about the game, Shane Connelly said, "These are learning lessons, and I hope there's not many left. I understand we've got a young team, but at the same time, we've got a lot of returning guys. We know how to win, and we've just got to put it together. Everyone's got to believe that if we get that even a one-goal lead, that we're not going to back down."

Umm, yeah Shane, I hope there aren't many "learning lessons" left, either.

In my final Debbie Downer detail, during the radio postgame show, Posick/Cerniglia said that the Badgers "need to shore up some details in their transition game". Umm, yeah, no kidding.

Here are the other depressing recaps: uwbadgers, badgernation

Now I'm going to be a Positive Polly. I suppose it's possible that I'm delusional, but I'm really hoping that I'm not.

In the radio post-game show, Posick/Cerniglia remarked that scoring 5 goals against a WCHA team isn't easy to do, and that the PP got 2 goals, so there are reasons for us to be encouraged. I'd much rather be encouraged than discouraged, so I'm running with it.

Scoring 5 goals is a really good thing, especially given that scoring was a bit of a concern coming into the season. And the ability to score that many goals against a WCHA opponent is huge -- it's not like last season when we all got excited because the Badgers scored a ton against Robert Morris and then we were all let down when they couldn't score against anyone else.

And how nice is it to see our PP score? Not once, but twice! I gotta tell ya, our PP is looking much better. The passing on the PP is crisper, so the D doesn't have as much time to adjust while the player receiving the puck is getting a handle on the puck. And the passing seems to be smarter -- moving the puck around to get a better shot, rather than passing for passing's sake (which might not be accurate but it's sure what last year felt like). Not to mention that they're actually getting some shots on goal during the PP and sustaining some pressure.

Other positives . . .

After being outshot 24-5 in the 1st, the shots were close in the 2nd (13-11) and even in the 3rd (15-15).

Ryan McDonagh scored on a breakaway goal rather than shooting it into the goalie's chest (as it seems the Badgers characteristically do).

And let's not forget about Jake Gardiner's offensive talents. In Capobianco's Friday gameday blog, he remarked at one point, "Gardiner got the entire power play set up with his skating to start the rush from the UW end. He has shown great speed tonight on the rush. Reminds me a little of the way Robbie Earl used to sail through the neutral zone." Nice!

SATURDAY NIGHT: Denver 7 - Wisconsin 4 (Box)

Saturday night was painful. The best thing about Saturday night was Todd's live interactive blog, and as cool as the blog was, that's not exactly what I want to be saying after a game. Losing 7-4 really, really hurts.

After 3 soft goals (Goody called his game "awful" and said that he cost them the game), the Badger were losing 3-0. But they battled back to tie it up at 3. And then they handed the game right back to Denver.

According to Coach Osiecki on the radio postgame show, there was talk of replacing Gudmandson after the 2nd goal. But he said "Goody's got to work through it, he's got to become mentally strong, I guess. I don't know. He's gotta find a way to battle through it."

I wonder what Eaves' note to Gudmandson in the 2nd said. In his Saturday blog, Capobianco noted with 2:23 remaining, "At the last stoppage, Coach Eaves passed along a message to Scott Gudmandson via Sean Dolan. DU coach George Gwozdecky, and former UW teammate of Eaves, didn't like the pace of the stoppage the UW hanging by its bench a bit longer than usual."

You can read all about how bad Coach Eaves and the players thought they played in Milewski's game story. Eaves said, "We're not a very good team right now. For whatever reason, we've kind of hit rock bottom. And it's everyone." Blake Geoffrion said, "I don't think it can get any worse than we've been playing." And Jamie McBain said, "We're not being consistent enough. We're trying to jump (into the offense) a little too much. We've got to focus on our defense. We're making mistakes and they're capitalizing." No kidding, Jamie.

Milewski also catalogues the Badgers' issues in this game: giving up too many scoring chances, not getting the big save when they need it, turning the puck over far too often, veterans not producing as expected.

Oh, and in the live blog last night, Todd referred to the play of the Badgers' D as "the worst defensive showing for UW in a four-game stretch since the 1996-97 season". Great.

Speaking of the poor defensive showing and veterans not performing as expected, junior defenseman Jamie McBain was benched for the end of the 1st period for playing poorly. Wonderful.

If you're not depressed enough already, Andy Baggot points out that the Badgers are 0-4 for the first time since the 1932-33 season. Outstanding.

Here's another depressing recap: uwbadgers

But once again, it's time for me to be Positive Polly:

Despite being down 3-0 after the 1st, the Badgers outshot Denver 14-13 in the 1st period, with 9 shots coming from around the crease. And while the score didn't reflect it (don't look at the scoreboard!), the Badgers 1st period was much better Saturday than on Friday.

And in the 2nd period, the Badgers outshot Denver 21-12 and actually tied the game up at 3 before allowing Denver 2 more goals in that period. (Ignore the 2 Denver goals, focus on the # of Badgers' shots on goal and the Badgers' tying it up.)

And the Badgers had a total of 39 SOG during the game.

And despite giving up a shortie, the PP still looked pretty good. Like I said re the Friday game, the Badgers are moving the puck well on the PP, getting some shots on net, and actually maintaing some pressure on the PP.

And apparently Mark Osiecki is a bit of a Positive Polly like me. (Who'd have thought?) Oz's comments during the radio postgame show actually depart quite a bit from Eaves' "not very good" remarks. Oz emphasized how the Badgers battled back and played pretty well after giving up 3 soft goals. He also talked about intermediate goals that the team sets (if you meet those goals, you hope the game goes your way) and while not specifying the goals, he said that the team "saw improvement from last night" and "met all of them". Regarding the 0-4 start, Oz said that the games didn't go well with "us playing quite well, honestly".

Now, don't think that Oz is delusional. (You can think that I'm delusional, but don't think that Oz is.) I think Oz is trying to focus on the positives and build up from there. I was a stupid kid when Badger Bob coached, but I think that's what Bob tried to do, too. So as long as the team is still going to try to work on their deficiencies (and it seems Eaves is addressing that), I'm ok maintaing positivity.

Also during the radio postgame show, Posick/Cerniglia reminded us that our 24 goals allowed in our first 4 games came against BC, UNH, and Denver, and that those 3 teams are at the high end of offensive firepower in the NCAA.

Other positives:

Blake Geoffrion assures us that the team is talented: "We have a lot of talent in the room, we really do. We've just need to bring that talent together and play as a team." Ok, Blake, I'm with ya!

Brendan Smith looks quite a bit better than last year, and I noticed him making a couple of good defensive plays last night, including one 1st-period play that Capobianco remarked about in this Saturday blog: "Brendan Smith does a nice job breaking up a DU rush that looked dangerous at first. Smith leads with his stick and breaks up a pass. Gudmandson stops play with a nice glove save."

Gardiner is a really smooth skater and has the ability to carry the puck into the offensive zone. Here's another remark by Capobianco in the 1st: "Jake Gardiner is going to be very good, especially on the offensive end. He just made and end-to-end rush through lots of Pioneers and finished it off with a nice scoring chance from the right faceoff dot. He also got a chance at his own rebound."

And after Denver scored their 3rd goal, Capobianco said, "The Badgers seem to be playing better defense tonight, but the score doesn't indicate that," so at least for a while the D was looking better (again, let me remind you not to look at the scoreboard).

Also, Patrick Johnson owned somebody. I didn't see who it was, and apparently Todd was busy doing something and didn't see either, but PJ hit somebody near the end of the game. HUGE hit, levelled the other guy. Nice.

And ya gotta admire Matt Thurber. When the Badgers were down 7-3, he was still out there blocking shots. He blocked a shot on the PK, Badgers got the puck, and Badgers scored a shortie.

That's right, the Badgers scored a shorthanded goal and 2 PP goals, and only allowed 1 SH goal. Much better special teams last year.


Ben Street was elbowed into the boards during the 1st period. He didn't return to the game, and in the radio postgame show Oz indicated that it "might be an ACL" but that they wouldn't know until they got an MRI. Eaves declined to comment.

And not that it matters right now, but Capobianco had an interesting commentary on Denver's 5th goal: "I might as well start a little discussion here, but from the way the rules read in the NCAA rulebook, the last DU goal, which was reviewed, sure looks like it should not have counted. DU had a player in the crease when the puck went in. The official decided that the player didn't impede Gudmandson's ability to stop the puck, which is in the rules, however the replay clearly shows Gudmandson trying to see around the player, and when the shot comes, Gudmandson's stick hits the player in the skate."