Happy Black Friday everyone! And WELCOME TO BIG TEN HOCKEY! (Sorry Erik)
To celebrate, I asked Andy Johnson of Bucky's 5th Quarter some questions about the Badgers. I may or may not have asked forgotten about someone important on the UW team when formulating my questions. Let's see if you can figure out what I did.
The Daily Gopher: Coming into this season Wisconsin was the pre-season favorite to win the Big Ten. Thus far, that pick would seem to be a bit off. However, as last year's Wisconsin team showed, these preseason rankings don't mean much as long as you get hot when it counts. For any Gopher fans who haven't followed the Badgers closely so far this season can you explain why they've struggled at times? Do you expect them to clean things up and hit their stride as we hit the B1G season?
Andy Johnson: Wisconsin's early struggles have been greatly exaggerated. Obviously the blowout against Boston College is a bad loss, but they are obviously a good team and it was on Jerry York night. People will point out the game against Boston University as well, but the Badgers actually out played BU in that game despite the loss. Wisconsin out shot the Terriers 43-26. Obviously they went to Miami a few weeks ago and split on the road. I think we'd all agree that's a pretty acceptable result against a team like that. They will be fine, they just need to get in a rhythm. They've already had three bye weeks.
TDG: Wisconsin is producing on offense (3.25 gpg - 3rd B1G, 14th nationally) but is struggling on the defensive end (3.38 gpg allowed - 6th B1G, 47th nationally). Goalie Landon Peterson is among the country's worst in save % and goals against average. Are the team's defensive issues attributable mostly to the junior goalie or have his teammates been guilty of miscues that leave him hung out to dry far too often? Is there anything specific you'd like to see UW do to improve their defensive performance?
AJ: That will happen when you give up 16 goals as a team in one weekend in Boston. Take those games out of the equation and Wisconsin goalies have given up 10 goals (empty net goals excluded) in 6 games. That includes giving up just three goals with the goalie in the net against Miami who came into the weekend as a top-10 team in offense. Given the fact Rumpel is back and healthy, I don't have much of a concern about them keeping the puck out of the net.
TDG: If you were any other team I'd ask you how it feels to be facing the Gophers for the first time as a conference opponent. So since that easy question was stolen from me I'll substitute another...given what you've seen of the B1G teams so far, who do you think wins the conference title in year 1?
AJ: I picked Wisconsin to win the league before the season and I'm not going to change it now. Obviously the Gophers have played some great hockey and are probably viewed as the favorites in most peoples eyes. Michigan has the potential to beat anyone on any given night. I'll stick with the Badgers but I think It's going to be a fight to the end between the two long-time WCHA rivals for the inaugural Big Ten Title.
TDG: They're dropping the puck at 4pm on Friday. A new normal that we should all embrace? Or would you like to join TDG member Eric T. in a ritual burning of a Jim Delaney effigy doll?
AJ: TV rules all. I'm not a huge fan of the odd times and days, but at the same time, if it gets college hockey on national TV more often, it can't be all bad. Given the holiday week, I'm guessing most people already have Friday off and are welcome to the change. I'm guessing next season the trend of non-traditional days and times to expand.
TDG: What are your keys to this weekend? What do you think needs to happen for the Badgers to grab 2 or 3 points? (I refuse to consider the idea of a sweep because ewww).
AJ: The Badgers got torched against BC because they were too aggressive defensively and gave up odd man rushes like it was their job. They've learned from that weekend, but controlling Minnesota's speed is going to have to be a focus. With the way the Badgers play offensively, that third forward in the offensive zone is going to be crucial. Believe it or not, the Badgers have played much more aggressively the past year and love crashing the strong side defenseman to keep offensive zone pressure. The key is recognition from the back-side winger to realize the situation so he can get back and limit odd man rushes.
TDG: Predictions for the series?
AJ: It's cliche but I'll take a split. This is going to be one hell of a series against two teams I think are going to be right there in national contention when the season winds down. I'll take the Gophers on Friday and the Badgers on Saturday.
Thanks again to Andy for taking time out of his holiday week to remind me that Joel Rumpel still plays for the Badgers. =) If you're not too busy shopping, be sure to stop by again tonight for the Black Friday OPEN THREAD!