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Desperation Time for Wisconsin?

Wisconsin has started the season a rather dismal 0-5-1. On one hand, it's understandable given that every game they've played has been against a team ranked in the top 10, and only two of those games have been at home. But on the other hand, they've got to win some games. With the new rule that teams must finish the season with a winning record to make the NCAA tournament--likely henceforth known as 'The Wisconsin Rule' despite the fact that the rule was passed, but not implemented prior to Wisconsin's sub-.500 tourney appearance--Wisconsin's hopes of returning to the tournament may be on life support.

The Badgers have 30 regular season games, plus at least 2 postseason games left on their schedule. That means they'll need at least 19 wins in those last 32 games to even be under consideration for playing in the tournament despite what should be one of the country's toughest schedules. That's a big reason why I'm not a huge fan of the .500 rule. Had it been in place last season, Wisconsin essentially would have been punished by playing top-ranked Michigan on the road, as opposed to staying at home and blowing out the worst team in the country. Wisconsin never should have made the NCAA tournament last year, but for completely different reasons.

To make matters worse for the Badgers this year, they'll be without leading returning scorer Ben Street for at least three months after suffering a knee injury against Denver.

The big downfall for the Badgers so far has been their defense. They're giving up a brutal 5 goals per game, worst in the WCHA. Again, keep in mind the tough schedule, but also keep in mind that few teams would give up that many goals even against a tough schedule. The Badgers are loaded with offensive-minded defensemen, which has helped on the offensive side--a third of their goals so far have been scored by defenseman, and two D are tied for the team lead in scoring, while a third is tied for 3rd on the team in scoring--but hasn't helped keep the puck out of the net. Jamie McBain, who was named to most preseason all-conference and all-American teams, carries a dismal -12 rating through the first six games. Ryan McDonagh is at -6.

The next four weeks should tell a lot about Wisconsin's future. Three of their four series are on the road, but they face teams in North Dakota, Michigan Tech, Minnesota-Duluth, and St. Cloud that are more likely to be jockeying with the middle of the pack in the WCHA than leading the way at the top of the standings. To maintain the pace needed to reach the magic 19 wins, the Badgers need at least four wins and a tie, if not five wins. It's a tall task, but necessary to dig themselves out of the hole that they've dug.