MADISON, Wis. — After a humbling weekend at the end of October, Derrick LaPoint not only wondered if his penalty kill was any good, but if the rest of his team was better than average.
For one night at least, the Fighting Sioux showed their assistant captain how a stifling defense can help pick up an average offensive performance.
After allowing five power-play goals in a weekend sweep at Maine three weeks back, No.10 North Dakota has been lights out ever since on the penalty kill, and they had no problem shutting out the generator on Wisconsin’s Kohl Center, limiting No.13 Wisconsin to only five shots on six disjointed power plays in a 1-0 win Friday night.
“Tonight was a good confidence booster for our core and for our goaltending,” said LaPoint, who assisted on Jason Gregoire’s goal at 14:29 in the third period. “It’s easy to get up when you are playing top-end talent.”
North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol, in his team’s seventh game of a 12-game stretch against top 13 opponents, had been pleased with 90 percent of his team’s play, but was yearning for his squad to take it that extra 10 percent.
Hakstol didn’t get the complete effort he was probably looking for, especially with the Sioux (6-4-1, 5-2-0 WCHA) taking nine penalties for 40 minutes, but the rejuvenated penalty kill certainly fixed the transgressions.
Matching up against Wisconsin’s top power-play unit in the conference (30.9 percent), North Dakota had the Badgers scouted to a science, so much so that the visitors killed off two five-minute majors with relative ease.
“We take a lot of pride in our penalty kill,” said Gregoire of his team’s penalty kill, which is 18-for-19 (.947) over the last five games. “We can’t be taking that many penalties in a game, but when you kill penalties off like that, it gives you a lot of momentum and we can drive off it.”
A good penalty kill is only as good as the man between the pipes, and with junior Brad Eidsness struggling with a 79.3 percent save percentage, sophomore Aaron Dell kept an opponent at three goals or less for the fourth-straight game. Not only did Dell get his first shutout of the season, he rarely allowed a rebound.
“(Chances were) few and far between, I’ll give you that,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said.
With North Dakota needing only one goal against a out-of-sorts Wisconsin (6-3-2, 3-2-2 WCHA), Gregoire caught the Badgers in a shift change by taking a pass off the boards and firing a shot that beat UW senior goalie Scott Gudmandson low for the game’s only tally.
“It was a game left up to the bounces,” Gregoire said. “Both teams like scoring and taking pride in their goaltending. In a 0-0 game, it comes down to one shot. It’s a game of bounces and we were lucky to come out on top today.”
That was virtually the only thing Gudmandson, who lost for only the second time at home in his career, couldn’t stop all evening, as he stonewalled captain Chay Genoway unmarked at the left circle with a glove save and secured many a bouncing puck on a rough sheet of ice.
“Other than (the goal), I thought I played pretty well,” said Gudmandson (24 saves).
With 10 freshmen on his roster, Eaves wanted to build up this weekend’s tilt as a championship atmosphere, a hard-hitting game best deserving to be played in March rather than mid-November.
However, the negative energy generated on the power play halted Wisconsin’s five-game unbeaten streak, caused a smattering of boos to rain down after one of many failed power-play attempts came to a frustrating conclusion at the end of the second period and the Badgers being held to only 16 shots for the first time since March 7, 2003.
For a visiting team still looking for consistency, it was a welcome reception.
“We were able to come out and play well against their system tonight,” LaPoint said. “Simple as that.”