A deep look into the numbers for the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team this season allows a rather major discrepancy to emerge.
In even-strength situations through 12 games, the Badgers have generated 139 more shot attempts than their opponents but have allowed nine more goals than they’ve scored.
The nation’s fourth-best power play has helped establish the winning record (7-5) that UW takes into a non-conference series against Nebraska-Omaha tonight and Saturday night at the Kohl Center.
At even strength, however, there are questions as to why the Badgers haven’t been able to be more productive offensively.
“Honestly, if I knew or anybody else knew, I’d tell you,” Badgers center Cameron Hughes said. “It’s the way hockey goes sometimes.”
UW has scored 21 even-strength goals and allowed 30. In terms of per-game average, the former is below par for Division I men’s college hockey teams and the latter is above.
The shortcoming on the offensive side isn’t for a lack of chances.
The measurement of even-strength shot attempts is one of the most basic of hockey’s advanced stats. Any attempt at a goal, whether the puck goes in the net or is saved, blocked, goes wide or hits the post, is tracked.
Comparing a team’s number of attempts to that of its opponents gives a general indication of puck possession, which, though frequently debated as a predictor, has some value in explaining why teams win.
You’ll have a hard time finding those stats in official college box scores — shot attempts are listed only in the depths of the stats programs, and usually only in combination with power-play and short-handed situations.
But play-by-play readouts of UW games show that the Badgers have attempted 527 shots in even-strength situations this season while their opponents have tried 388. In the stats, shots while a team has pulled its goalie for an extra attacker still register as even strength.
Badgers coach Tony Granato said his team has come up against some good goaltending and hasn’t generated as many rebound attempts in recent games as it did early in the season.
“But it’s not something where you look on a piece of paper and you see a number and you say, OK, we have to change,” he said. “We’re playing the game the right way.”
The raw number of attempts doesn’t indicate anything about their quality, but Granato and Badgers players didn’t express concerns there beyond the desire to generate more rebound activity.
Junior winger Ryan Wagner leads the team with 50 even-strength shot attempts after he launched 10 in last Saturday’s 6-5 loss at No. 2 Denver. He has just one even-strength goal this season.
This week, he was able to correctly recall from memory the lofty shots-on-goal stats from all manpower situations for his line in that game at Denver (he had eight, while Hughes and Luke Kunin each had seven) and gave some insight into what’s needed to translate attempts into goals.
“I think it’s on us to bear down on those chances,” Wagner said. “I know I missed a back-door chance. It’s about outbattling the other team, doing whatever it takes. If the puck gets there, you’ve got to go hard to the net and battle for it.”
That’s not an issue for Wagner, who’s been acclaimed by coaches and teammates for playing bigger than his 5-foot-8 frame in parts of the ice where defenders are going to be physical with any opponents who try to establish a presence.
It’s the finishing that recently has eluded the Badgers, who have scored just five even-strength goals in their past six games after netting 16 in their first six.
Omaha, the Badgers’ opponent this weekend, is in a similar situation when it comes to even-strength production. The Mavericks have scored just 20 even-strength goals in 14 games while allowing 27.
At minus-9 and minus-7, respectively, the Badgers and the Mavericks (7-5-2) have the lowest even-strength season scoring margins in the country among teams with winning records.
From youth levels to the pros, players hear from coaches that they shouldn’t worry about goal production as long as they’re still generating quality chances. That’s the song being sung by the Badgers lately.
“Just keep sticking to it,” said Kunin, who with four even-strength goals shares the team lead with defenseman Corbin McGuire. “That’s what we’re doing. That’s our thought process on it. (Goals are) going to come here.”