So much for the goal-scoring slump. Four goals in the Penn State series Monday and Tuesday night quickly put an end to that.
The biggest difference in Caufield the last two games has been a decided increase in scoring chances. In the third period of the first Penn State game and his first two shifts of the next match Caufield had more scoring chances than in his first 4 2/3 games.
The scoring opportunities continued throughout Tuesday’s game, and on the power play in the first period, Caufield got the puck in full flight, made two stellar dekes and beat the goalie five hole (we think).
He didn’t stop there.
After Saturday’s game, Caufield was goalless in his first four games of the season. A far cry from last year when he became the first Wisconsin player in history to score two goals on each of his first two games with the Badgers.
Once he scored his first goal of the campaign on Monday night, however, you could tell a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders. That Caufield confidence was back, and last night he had one of the more dominant performances I’ve seen in recent NCAA play.
Caufield ended the game with three goals in a 7-3 Wisconsin win against Penn State but he also could have had multiple assists if his linemates were finishing his steady dose of setups.
The first goal was his nicest, demonstrating his quickness, puck skills and release. The second one was all about that shot and release. He had time and space, and when that happens, goalies are in trouble. Caufield’s accuracy is elite, and his shot is heavy.
Caufield told Recrutes in October that he spent the summer up in Michigan training with Jack Hughes, Alex Turcotte, and Cam York, and that “I feel a lot stronger on the ice, and I’m able to be more explosive and make more things happen driving the play.”
That was quite evident on Monday night on this play:
Caufield had been offering glimpses of his dynamic puck skills and edges in his first threee games. The last two nights he offered more than glimpses…he was dynamic in both games, and the payoff was in his four goals and recognition as the Big Ten Star of the Week.
Caufield is more than a goal scorer. He may still need some work away from the puck, but when he has it, opponent can’t just cut off his shooting lanes; he has the vision and puck skills to find the open man. Check out the two slick passes he made on this shift; both right on the tape:
His chemistry with brother Brock in the past two games has been evident, and look for coach Tony Granato to keep those two together with Linus Weissbach. The trio combined for 11 points in the two-game sweep of Penn State, and it could have been substantially more with a bit more finish from all three.
Caufield made a terrific play freezing the defender at the blueline and finding his brother Brock wide open in the slot on a second period power play (45-second mark of the clip) – a good example of where Caufield made one of his best offensive plays of the season, yet was not rewarded on the scoresheet.
Caufield did a lot of standing and gliding around in the first four games, and there were some concerns that he still hadn’t quite figured out that his play away from the puck required more urgency. This isn’t the USNTDP team that had the puck 80 percent of the game; it’s a young college team in a strong division that will have to battle each night just to possess the puck half the time. He has to go get it more than he was used to in junior.
Here was an example of Caufield getting the puck himself twice on one shift that is an encouraging sign for the future. Hard work creates offensive opportunities too. Maybe his brother’s work ethic is rubbing off on him a bit.
On the weekend, I almost tweeted out that perhaps Caufield would need the World Junior tournament to regain his goal-scoring confidence, in a reverse of what happened last year when he entered the tournament on a tear, only to slow down his pace during and after the event.
Turned out all he needed was one goal to get rolling, which is often the case with goal scorers. He is playing the best all-around hockey of his collegiate career right now, and I am expecting him to have a much more impactful WJC this time around. The next six weeks, he should be fun to watch.