The University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team generated only 44 shots on goal combined in a pair of home losses against Denver a month ago.
The Badgers’ fortunes have changed considerably in shots on goal in the six games since, but the results haven’t translated into a better record.
The 54 shots on goal that UW recorded in last Saturday’s 2-2 tie at Michigan State was the latest sign of what coach Tony Granato called a change in offensive mindset.
UW is third in the country with an average of 38.5 shots on goal per game in the past three weeks. A 46-shot barrage at Minnesota and a 37-shot effort against Notre Dame also stand out from the stretch.
UW has quickened the frequency of its shot attempts, from one every 61 seconds in its first 20 games of the season to one every 53 seconds over the past six contests.
Granato allowed that part of the change may be due to a heightened urgency from players as the regular season gets into the final weeks. The Badgers play their penultimate regular-season home series Friday and Saturday against No. 3 Ohio State, the Big Ten Conference leader.
An effort by players to get to the net more is another factor.
“All of these games are so meaningful, teams are going to buckle down defensively,” Granato said. “They’re going to play tight around their net. It’s going to be hard to make plays through them. But if you can get it to the net and crash and bang, you’ve got a much better chance of scoring.”
UW has hit the net on only 7.4 percent of its shots on goal in the past six games, ranking 45th of 60 Division I teams in that measure. Its scoring average was 3.15 in the first 20 games and 2.83 in the last six.
And it’s just 1-3-2 in that last stretch after gaining only a tie and shootout win from the overwhelming shot total on Saturday.
That game was the only time in the past 20 seasons UW reached 50 shots on goal and failed to score at least three times, excepting multiple-overtime playoff games against Cornell in 2006 and Penn State in 2017.
The increase in volume is due to better puck management and decisions in the neutral zone, right wing Will Johnson said. The lack of better end results could be a source of frustration.
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“You can take it two ways: You can think it doesn’t work, or you can think it’s working,” Johnson said. “We’ve just got to keep going. Eventually, if you put up 60 shots, you’re going to get six or seven goals.”
Max Zimmer is 2-for-3 in shootouts this season, with his goals responsible for the Badgers getting the extra Big Ten standings point at Michigan on Nov. 24 and at Michigan State last Saturday.
There was a simple method to it, Zimmer said, with a shot from between the circles getting through the goalie’s pads both times.
“I’ve learned that the ice gets really, really bad after the third period and then two overtimes and then a shootout,” he said. “(I was) just trying to shoot it instead of making a move.”
Zimmer was the Badgers’ second choice for the shootout at Michigan after defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk and the first in a six-round loss to Penn State on Nov. 30 and in Saturday’s game.
“He deserved that opportunity based on how he played and based on what he did for us in Michigan,” Granato said.
A fourth-line left wing for the last two weeks after sitting out both games against Notre Dame, Zimmer has four goals in regular play this season in addition to his two shootout scores.
Big crowd for jersey retirement
The Badgers will have their largest announced crowd of the season at Saturday’s game, when Mark Johnson’s No. 10 jersey will be retired in a pregame ceremony.
More than 13,700 tickets were sold as of Monday morning, leaving less than 1,700 available. The largest announced attendance so far this season was 11,822 for the Jan. 5 game against Denver.
All fans Saturday will receive a commemorative rally towel with No. 10 on it to honor the team’s all-time leading goal-scorer, who has coached the school’s women’s hockey team to four NCAA titles. Memorabilia from Johnson’s career will be on display in the Kohl Center concourse.
Saturday’s ceremony is scheduled to start shortly after 6:30 p.m.