Defense locks down as MSU, UM fire just 31 shots on Connelly

first_imgJEFF SCHORFHEIDE/Herald photoShane Connelly faced just 12 shots in Friday’s 3-1 win over the Michigan State Spartans. Naturally, he expected to be tested a bit more Saturday against a good Michigan Wolverines’ offense.But the Wolverines mustered just 19 shots, and Connelly earned the 3-0 shutout as the Badgers swept the College Hockey Showcase in Madison.“Michigan’s known for their high-powered offense. I thought I’d definitely see a lot more action than I did last night,” Connelly said. “But at the same time, even though there wasn’t as many chances … they still had some pretty good chances tonight, so I had to be prepared for that.”The University of Wisconsin defense never allowed Michigan to fire more than seven shots in a period Saturday, making Connelly’s job easy. The night before, the Spartans never managed more than five shots in a single frame.Two of the Wolverines’ most dangerous weapons were held in check by the Badgers’ blueliners. Sophomore center Louie Caporusso was tied for first in the nation in goals scored with 13 entering Saturday’s game, and linemate Aaron Palushaj was tied for most points in the country with 21.The duo combined for just two shots all night, both by Caporusso.“The team did a really good job of shutting down Michigan’s players,” Connelly said. “They’re tremendously skilled players. They’re fast. I was very happy with the team and the way we were able to shut them down.”Wisconsin’s two weekend opponents managed a combined 31 shots against Connelly. Early in the season, the Badgers were giving up more than that in a single game.In the second weekend of the year, the Denver Pioneers peppered Connelly with 52 shots in a 6-5 victory. North Dakota also broke the 40-shot mark, firing 45 on net in late October en route to a 3-2 win.But Saturday’s effort marked the sixth straight game in which the UW defense held its opponent to under 30 shots, something it didn’t do until the sixth game of the season.“There’s so much to cover in the beginning of the year,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said. “We put an emphasis on our penalty killing and our power play because of what was going on with the referees and the way they were going to call it. We took some time away from the defensive zone coverage, and now we’ve built up that time and guys have an understanding and they’ve had good repetitions at it.“We’re executing the way we need to to keep those shots down and ultimately keep the goals against down.”With the decrease in shots allowed, the defense has made Connelly’s job physically easier. That’s not to say, however, that it hasn’t taken a mental toll on the senior netminder.“I haven’t had the same workload that I’ve had before in previous weekends,” Connelly said. “But at the same time, these are tougher weekends when there’s not as many chances and the game’s tight. You need to be much more mentally sharp knowing the other guy’s not giving them up, so you’ve got to respond too and just give your team a chance to win the game.”When asked whether his performance improved as a result of the team’s newfound success, Connelly admitted the two go hand in hand.“I’m more positionally sound right now. I feel a lot more comfortable in the net,” he said. “At the same time, the team’s playing much better. We’re much more consistent. You can see the confidence grow back, especially with our defensemen.”The UW defense includes three freshmen, all of whom have seen their fair share of ice time so far this season. Only recently, however, has the young unit felt they have gotten on the same page.“We’re kind of settling in a little bit,” said freshman Jake Gardiner, who had two assists on the weekend. “We let a lot of goals in at the start of the season. It just wasn’t clicking for us. I think we’re coming around and playing as a team, playing hard and we’re getting better.”last_img

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