With four scorers among the top 20 in the WCHA, the forwards have shown playmaking ability across the top three lines. Sophomore forward Derek Stepan — the consummate "creator" and third in the WCHA with 17 assists — has picked off right where he left off from a stellar rookie year. Senior captain Blake Geoffrion leads the conference in goal scoring with 14, and has finally realized his capabilities if he just parks his big body in front of the net. A previously inconsistent player who has spent more time in Mike Eaves' dog house than Lassie, Michael Davies has finally put all the pieces together and is fourth on the team with 16 points. If he had finished opportunities earlier in the year, he would be the team's top playmaker. On the other side of the spectrum, senior forward John Mitchell suffered a prolonged slump early on in the season, and currently only has four goals. For an offense that occasionally can't finish despite high shot totals, his goal scoring from last season has been missed. As a group, the forwards probably take too many penalties and production has disappeared for entire games, leading to losses despite dominating the shot totals.
Talent. Oh my gosh the talent. With five of the six top D-pairings being first or second round picks in the NHL Draft, the Badgers D-Core has overwhelmed opponents this year with a combination of size, speed and skill no other program can match. First you have Brendan Smith, leading the WCHA in points with 26, almost double the second best defenseman in points per game at 1.53 and has replaced previous WCHA Player of the Year Jamie McBain with zero transition period. After that you have bruiser/enforcer Ryan McDonagh, who sets the tone in the Badgers defensive zone and has chipped in a little scoring as well with 10 points so far. Head coach Mike Eaves also has Cody Goloubef (well rounded) and Jake Gardiner (best skater on the team) at his disposal. Next he has two freshman in Justin Schultz and John Ramage who have made their presence felt with a combined +17 on the ice. Opposing coaches sound like broken iPods after each game singing the praises for how tough it is to skate with Wisconsin defenseman for a full 60 minutes. The only negative comes from a penchant for taking too many penalties, and Brendan Smith occasionally getting too deep on offense thus exposing the goaltender to odd-man rushes.
Not bad, not spectacular. Replacing departed senior Shane Connelly, Eaves has utilized a two goaltender rotation with junior Scott Gudmandson and transfer Brett Bennett. Together, the two have allowed a solid 2.09 goals per game — tops in the WCHA — but have the benefit of strong defensemen in front of them limiting opportunities. Gudmandson ranks third in save percentage and Bennett is down at No. 10, but both have saved over 90 precent. Because of Eaves emphasis on blocking shots, UW is currently outshooting opponents 675-427. With Bennett shelved with an injury, look for Gudmandson to play more once the schedule resumes.
In wins, the Badgers are averaging 5.45 goals per game. In losses, they only manage 1.8. While Mike Eaves may not like the label as a "boom or bust" team, Wisconsin has yet to win a game where they scored less than four goals. He has done a fantastic job getting UW to play hard each night, and most of his forwards excel in his dump and chase system, but playoff games don't always are won 2-1 more often than 5-3. At least the Badgers have a clear goal to improve upon for the second semester.
Special Teams: B
With Smith (power play points leader) and Geoffrion (power play goals leader) the team boasts two of the top weapons in all of conference play. At times the penalty kill has starred, yet other times it looks lackadaisical. Overall, Wisconsin ranks third in combined special teams percentage at 53.1 percent.
Naming McDonagh, Geoffrion and Ben Street tri-captains signified one of two things. Either Eaves couldn't rely on one captain to get the job done, or the combined strengths of the captain pyramid was so valuable he couldn't give any of them the letter ‘A'. It clearly has been the latter. Not that they fit neatly into labels, but Geoffrion is the rah-rah guy, Street fills the role of sage leader and McDonagh sets the tone with his physical play. Plus, if you got into a bar fight, McDonagh and Geoffrion are on the top t10 list of who you want having your back.
An 11-5-2 record, third place standing in the WCHA and No. 7 ranking are all noteworthy accomplishments. Second in the nation for scoring with 4.06 goals per game No. 6 defensively giving up merely 2.11 goals per game, the Badgers have proven they can hang with anyone. Now the problem is proving it consistency. Hockey is a weird game, so sometimes puck luck will go against you, but UW needs to figure out how to win when they aren't getting the bounces. Still, if that is your No. 1 concern, it is a nice problem to have.