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Hockey Preview: Wisconsin Badgers

For the first time in the B1G MSU hockey will play the Wisconsin Badgers

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

This weekend the Spartan hockey team will travel to the Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin to play the Wisconsin Badgers, for the first time as B1G counterparts. This will be the first time these two teams have met since November, 2010 when the Badgers won 4-1 as a part of the College Hockey Showcase. The Spartans haven't beat the Badgers since the 2004 season and hold a 46-42 edge in the all-time series.

The Spartans are coming off a weekend in which they took 5 of a possible 6 points from Penn State. The games each night were not pretty for the Spartans, and definitely don't inspire confidence in their chances this weekend. Against one of the worst ranked defenses in the country the Spartans were only able to manage 4 goals on the weekend. On top of limited goals for the Spartans they were held to an embarrassing 13 shots on net in Saturday's 2-1 win. This weekend will be the Spartans last full road series, as they finish the season with a home and home series with Michigan and a home series with Wisconsin to conclude the season. Currently the Spartans, by way of extra points from shootout victories, are only a single point out of third place in the conference. If the Spartans want any realistic chance of finishing in the top three they will need at least a series split this weekend.

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Badger Hockey Digest February 19, 2014 (via Wisconsin Badgers)

#8 Wisconsin Badgers 17-9-2 (8-5-1 B1G)

Time/TV: 9:00 p.m Friday on Big Ten Network, 5:00 p.m. Saturday on ESPNU

Series Q&A: Andy Johnson of Bucky's 5th Quarter

Wisconsin Badgers Stats Match-Up (National Rank) Michigan State Spartans
3.18 (16) Goals Scored Per Game 2.17 (54)
2.54 (20) Goals Against Per Game 2.28 (9)
15.6% (45) Power Play Percentage 13.3% (51)
86.1 (10) Penalty Kill Percentage 80.9 (40)
Mark Zengerle (6G, 21A 27 pts) Leading Scorer Greg Wolfe (11G, 11A 22pts)

Joel Rumpel 14-4-1 (.933 save %)

Goaltender Jake Hildebrand 8-11-7 (.933 save%)
15-2-1 @ Home Home/Away Record 1-7-3 Away

Coach: Mike Eaves (Wisconsin '78) has been the coach of the Badgers for 12 years and has a career record of 248-178-53. Eaves has won a national championship at Wisconsin in 2006, when the Badgers defeated the Boston College Eagles at the Frozen Four in Milwaukee. Eaves will be a familiar name for Spartan fans as he is the father of current Red Wings forward Patrick Eaves.

Players to Watch: As Andy Johnson pointed out in this weeks Q&A, the Badgers have a very balanced scoring attack. Michael Mersch has been the most deadly scoring threat for the Badgers, registering 16 goals on the season. Last weekend Mark Zengerle was able to score goals in the Badgers 4-2 win over the Buckeyes but he has racked up most of his points through assists. Jake Mccabe is a defenseman who has netted 7 goals and is someone to watch very closely on the power play, especially if the Spartans overload coverage on Mersch. Other forwards to watch are Nic Kerdiles and Tyler Barnes who were on a line with Mersch this past weekend.

3 Keys For MSU Success

  1. Defenseman- If you have watched Canada at all during the Olympics you have seen even the best forwards in the world can be shut down for one reason or another. What has made the Canadian team stay undefeated has been offensive contributions from their defenseman. There is no Shea Weber or Drew Doughty on MSU but players like John Draeger and Travis Walsh have offensive talent, and they need to push the play more often and make an impact.
  2. The "Blue Line Danger Zone"- When I played hockey what was preached almost more than anything was the "danger zone" of 5 feet inside and outside the blue line. Any turnovers in this area often led to goals. Turnovers at the defensive blue line have plagued MSU lately, burning a third period lead against Ohio State and leading to goals for Penn State last weekend. With the Spartans likely scoring less than three goals each night, playing perfect defense in this area is pivotal to success this weekend.
  3. Coaching Adjustments- I know there are many of you who are tired of Tom Anastos, who want a coaching change. Now, I don't necessarily disagree with this sentiment, however I feel there will be no change made after this season. Remember Anastos was a left field candidate who must have wowed Mark Hollis, as he barely conducted a coaching search. So, it is unlikely Hollis would make a hasty decision after just the third year of the Anastos era. I view the remaining three weeks of the season and the B1G tournament as a chance for Anastos to build for next year. Try different line combinations, change the power play line ups, frankly do anything. Trotting out the same line-up that has led you to a 49th ranked offense is simply crazy and the time to try something new is now.

Analysis: This may be a match-up of the best two goaltenders in the country, let alone the B1G conference. No goalie in the country has been hamstrung with such a limited offense and played as well as Jake Hildebrand has. While Joel Rumpel has better talent in front of him, it doesn't change just how impressive he has been. I think Rumpel is too much for the Spartans and their anemic offense and the Spartans are swept in two close games 2-1 each night.

Around The B1G: Both Minnesota and Ohio State are taking a weekend off. The only other series in the B1G is Penn State visiting Michigan. 2 weeks ago Penn State picked up their first B1G victory ever beating the Wolverines 4-0.