Michigan State returns to Big Ten play this weekend, welcoming the Wisconsin Badgers back to Munn Ice Arena for a two-game series.
The Spartans are coming off of a two-game winning after a sweep of Ferris State last weekend, while the Badgers are on a three-game losing streak.
Wisconsin is 4-8 thus far. Last year, Wisconsin won the regular-season conference championship with a 17-6-1 record, powered by the young star forward Cole Caufield. But since losing him, the Badgers appear to have taken some major steps back.
A key part of the rough start has been a downright atrocious play on special teams. The power play has been terrible so far, converting just four times on 40 attempts. The penalty kill is the second-worst in the nation, holding a success rate of just 61.8% according to www.ncaa.com for powerplay and College Hockey News for PK.
However, Wisconsin is not a team to be overlooked — the team is significantly better than its record indicates.
The Badgers have played eight straight games against ranked opponents, including the current No.1 and No. 2 teams in the country.
Wisconsin managed to pull off a couple of wins in that brutal stretch. They beat the Michigan Wolverines (No. 2 in the nation at the time) 4-2 in Ann Arbor and a week later they pulled off another major upset, securing a win against the No.5 Minnesota Gophers in overtime. When Wisconsin is dialed in, it is a frustrating team to play against.
Wisconsin and Michigan State both have one flaw in common: they struggle to score. Michigan State’s 2.25 average goals per game is 45th in the nation, while Wisconsin’s 1.67 is 56th—which is the third-worst in the NCAA. Both teams rely on strong team defense and good goaltending to squeak out close victories.
In fact, the deciding factor in the series could very well be the goaltenders. Senior goaltender Drew DeRidder has been excellent all year for the Spartans, currently holding a save percentage of .938 through ten games. Junior goaltender Jared Moe has a .932 save percentage through nine games with the Badgers.
Offensively, Wisconsin is led in goals (three) by Cole Caufield’s brother, Brock. Senior forward Brock Caulfield’s five points on the season is tied for the team lead with freshman defenseman Corson Ceulemans. Ceulemans leads a strong defensive unit for the Badgers – the first-round draft pick is an excellent defender, but he also possesses a great offensive toolkit.
Considering the scoring ability of the two teams and the stellar goalies that will be guarding the crease, expect the series to be a low-scoring affair.
The two games are important for both squads. Wisconsin is just above Michigan State in the Big Ten standings, with one more Big Ten win under its belt. For the Badgers, this is an opportunity to turn the season around and claw back into the Big Ten race. For the Spartans, a successful series can prove that the team can be a real threat in the Big Ten this season.
The puck is set to drop at 7 p.m. at Munn Ice Arena Friday night. The game will be streamed via Big Ten Network+.
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