As the ice got more chopped up and Wyatt Kalynuk’s legs got heavier last Saturday, the defenseman again showed how critical an element he is for the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team.
Between even-strength shifts and time leading the power play and on the penalty kill, Kalynuk logged about 4:40 of the 10 minutes of overtime the Badgers played in the second game of a series at Michigan.
He went end to end and back again a few times during the 3-on-3 session. At the end of a 65-second shift, he fed the puck to teammate Sean Dhooghe out of his own zone and seemed to drag his body to the bench for a replacement.
Those were energy-sapping shifts for Kalynuk, with the game on the line and at the end of a lengthy pair of contests that both ended up officially as ties. After feeling some of the effects on Sunday, he said on Monday that crunch time was the best part of the game.
“That’s when you’re having the most fun,” Kalynuk said. “That’s when the game means the most. As a team, we wish we would have closed it out, but as a player you want to be out there in overtime because that’s the best time.”
Kalynuk, a sophomore, not only is among the Badgers’ more frequently used players, he shares the team lead with 11 points and has generated more shot attempts (100) and shots on goal (40) than any of his teammates.
But in two ties last weekend, Michigan was able to limit Kalynuk’s ability to get the puck to the net like few teams have been able to do.
Official stats showed that Kalynuk had 12 of his 17 shot attempts in the two-game series blocked. Only three got through to the goaltender, all of them on Saturday.
Friday’s game was only the second time in 14 games this season that Kalynuk wasn’t credited with a shot on goal. The other was in a 5-0 loss at North Dakota on Nov. 2.
Michigan blocked five of the six shots that Kalynuk attempted on the power play on Saturday. For the season, he has had 37 percent of power-play attempts blocked; it was 29 percent last season.
Badgers coach Tony Granato said that not having injured forward Linus Weissbach using his speed on the power play has condensed Kalynuk’s space at the top of the zone in running UW’s top unit.
He also said that Kalynuk is a known quantity with Big Ten Conference opponents.
“They know he’s our big guy at the point,” Granato said. “So they played him much differently and much more aggressively in blocking those shots.”
Granato said he wouldn’t ask Kalynuk to change anything in how he’s playing, but the defenseman offered that he could be more active with the puck to open up shooting lanes between opponents. He also said he could vary the locations from which he lets the puck go.
“It doesn’t always have to be right from the middle,” Kalynuk said. “I think even if you’re on the wall on the power play, if you can get it through to the net with a guy in front, that’s a good option as well.”
From the infirmary
There’s a chance that Weissbach, who has missed the past eight games with a right hand injury, could return to the lineup against No. 6 Penn State this weekend, Granato said.
The sophomore left wing, who had two goals and eight points in six games before being injured in practice on Oct. 29, returned to practice on a limited basis last week.
Home for a while
After road trips on three of the past four weekends, the Badgers won’t have to travel again for nearly two months.
UW’s next seven regular-season games and one exhibition are at the Kohl Center. A Dec. 7-8 series against Michigan State closes the first half after this weekend’s pair of games against Penn State.
The Badgers resume the second half with a non-conference series against Denver (Jan. 4-5), host an exhibition against the U.S. Under-18 Team (Jan. 12) and play the first game of a series against Notre Dame at home (Jan. 18). The Jan. 20 game against the Fighting Irish is in Chicago.
UW’s next true road game is Jan. 25 at Minnesota, and the Badgers know they need to use this time at home to improve their 5-7-2 record.
“I like what we did last weekend as far as how we played,” Granato said. “But now we have to be a team that learns how to turn those efforts into victories.”