The Ohio State women’s hockey team lines up prior to the start of the game against Minnesota on Jan. 19. Ohio State won 3-2. Credit: Will Sharp | For The Lantern

The Ohio State women’s hockey team is struggling through a season-long three-game losing streak. But its competition won’t get any easier, for it is tasked with taking on Minnesota this weekend.

No. 7 Ohio State (15-9, 9-7 WCHA) will face No. 2 Minnesota (22-3-1, 12-3-1 WCHA) on Friday and Saturday for the teams’ second series of the season.

The Buckeyes were swept 5-2 and 6-3 last weekend at Minnesota Duluth in losses to an unranked opponent that they had dismantled twice earlier in the season.

Ohio State head coach Nadine Muzerall said the Buckeyes’ frequent stints in the penalty box and lapses in defensive fundamentals have been instrumental in allowing opposing teams to gain advantages.

“We, right now, are the No. 1 team in the WCHA with penalties per game,” Muzerall said. “We have to make sure we’re doing the smart things defensively. The little things we tend to forget. We can’t be giving up 16 goals like we did the last three games.”

Minnesota has been no stranger to offensive opportunity this season. It has scored 111 goals, 286 points and hold a scoring margin of 2.62, all of which are the top national marks.

The Gophers did not lose a game in November or December, but broke its 14-game winning streak on Jan. 18 with a 2-1 loss to No. 1 Wisconsin.

Ohio State freshman goalie Andrea Braendli is familiar with Minnesota’s prolific offensive output. She made 84 saves against the Gophers in their Oct. 19–20 series that helped reward the Buckeyes with a split series on the road and earned her WCHA Goaltender of the Week honors.

The high volume of goals allowed during Ohio State’s current losing skid has raised questions about who will start in goal moving forward.

Sophomore goalie Lynsey Wallace replaced Braendli and notched her first career start on Saturday after Braendli allowed four first-period goals in Friday’s loss. Braendli had started the previous 20 games for the Buckeyes.

This week’s starter will have to earn her spot during the week of preparation in order to take the ice against the Gophers, Muzerall said.

“We’re evaluating them every day in practice,” Muzerall said. “Every Monday is a reset. At the start of the week, you have to fight for your position.”

Muzerall said whoever is in goal for Ohio State will have the challenge of facing Minnesota sophomore forward Grace Zumwinkle, the Gophers’ leading scorer, who is tied at No. 5 in the nation with 18 goals.

“That kid can shoot the puck about 75-80 mph,” Muzerall said. “If you don’t want to take one of those off the ankle, you better gap up and you better play smart defensively.”

Muzerall said Minnesota’s weakness is in its back end and goaltending, and Ohio State hopes to generate more offense against the team that outshot the Buckeyes 89-45 in their previous series.

Ohio State freshman forward Gabby Rosenthal, who scored her first career goal Friday at Minnesota Duluth, said she hopes to continue providing an offensive spark for the Buckeyes.

“I’m focusing on getting shots on net and crashing to the net and getting those rebounds,” Rosenthal said. “It’s really important to beat girls, pick up sticks, get shots on net and bury.”

The Buckeyes are 10-2 in Columbus this season, and Ohio State senior forward Erin Langermeier said a return to home ice is just what the Buckeyes need for a turnaround performance.

“We have our home crowd, our family, all that,” Langermeier said. “Going into this weekend, I’m very confident our energy level will be there, and we’re just going to be so pumped to play the No. 2 team.”

Game 1 of Ohio State’s home series begins with a 6:07 p.m. puck drop on Friday, and the WCHA rivals will face off again at 3:07 p.m. Saturday.