The University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team missed left wing Linus Weissbach’s speed and presence on the power play in a pair of losses at North Dakota last weekend, coach Tony Granato said.
The 20th-ranked Badgers likely will have to find ways of covering those areas again when they host No. 16 Minnesota on Friday and Saturday, and perhaps longer.
Weissbach injured his right hand in last Monday’s practice and has had it wrapped while he watched the team go through drills at the start of this week. He might be able to return to skating with the team before the weekend, Granato said, but the sophomore probably won’t play for at least two weeks.
One point off the team lead with eight, Weissbach typically plays on the Badgers’ top power play and has been on the second line.
“Linus is a very dynamic player and hard to defend,” Granato said. “He’s also a guy that draws a lot of penalties with his speed.”
Two freshmen replaced Weissbach on the left side of the second line last week at North Dakota. Jack Gorniak joined center Tarek Baker and right wing Sean Dhooghe in Friday’s 5-0 loss, when the line generated six even-strength shot attempts and three shots on goal.
Roman Ahcan, Baker and Dhooghe combined for seven shot attempts, four shots on goal and Baker’s third-period goal as a unit in Saturday’s 3-2 overtime defeat.
Max Zimmer took Weissbach’s spot on a first power-play unit that generated only six shot attempts on six man-advantage opportunities in the series.
Two weeks ago, Granato pointed to this week as a time when the Badgers could make a decision to go with either Jack Berry or Daniel Lebedeff as their No. 1 goaltender after they have shared the role.
Granato wasn’t ready to go there Monday, but he said there’s a “good chance” that Lebedeff will be the initial starter for a series for the first time when UW hosts Minnesota.
The freshman entered in the second period of Friday’s 5-0 loss after Berry had been tagged for four goals. Granato said afterward that he wasn’t faulting Berry — two goals took favorable North Dakota bounces off UW players around the net — but was trying to change the momentum.
Given the start Saturday after a Badgers loss for a third straight weekend, Lebedeff had a strong, 32-save showing.
“Saturday’s performance certainly gives us confidence that he’s ready for the big stage,” Granato said. “That was a big-stage game on Saturday night, and he had no problem stepping in and being a big factor in that game.”
Lebedeff has a .922 save percentage in four appearances. After opening the season with a shutout of Boston College, Berry, a junior, has allowed 19 goals over his past four starts to drop his save percentage to .860.
Penalties pile up
The Badgers went from allowing six goals on 12 power-play tries against Michigan Tech a week earlier to killing 11 of 12 against North Dakota.
The outlier last weekend was the overtime goal Saturday, scored on a 5-on-3 chance to wrap up a game where UW got itself in penalty trouble for the second time in four outings.
“Our team has to learn,” Granato said. “And if we’re not learning and this continues to happen, we’re not going to win.”
Granato didn’t dispute the penalties called against the Badgers on Saturday but said his team should have had more power-play opportunities.
UW is 12th in the country in penalty minutes (15.8 per game) and 52nd in penalty killing (72.5 percent), a dangerous combination.
Stats show the work that UW’s penalty killers were subjected to on Saturday. North Dakota won 21 of 23 faceoffs over the 15:15 of its power-play chances, allowing it to start plays with possession and launch 35 shot attempts at the UW net.
Lebedeff stopped 17 of them and Badgers penalty killers got in the way of 13.
Border Battle rarity
For the first time in the past 39 regular-season series between the Badgers (4-4) and Minnesota (1-3-1), neither team enters with a winning record.
The most recent such occurrence was March 5-6, 1999. UW was 14-17-3 and the Gophers 12-16-8 before the Badgers gained a win and a tie in Minneapolis.