In some ways, they might have a lot in common with head coach John Markell.
A week ago, the Buckeyes – who started the calendar year of 2010 at 4-1-1 and playing their best hockey of the year – visited Nebraska-Omaha and blew a pair of early 2-0 leads on the way to a shootout loss and a regulation loss. In other words, the team Markell put on the ice wasn't one he recognized given their recent run of good results.
"We had five leads this weekend and blew them all," the obviously displeased head coach said this week. "Our guys just got impatient with playing simple hockey and doing the little things that makes one guy be able to read off another guy. It's just a matter of getting refocused and creating those opportunities for ourselves."
Ohio State's first chance to get refocused will be tonight in Value City Arena with a 7 p.m. faceoff against Alaska. The game should be a clash of styles, as OSU's high-flying team is also giving up goals at a rapid pace, while the Nanooks are known for a tight-checking, defensive style.
In addition, the Buckeyes, who are 10th place in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, are only four points behind the fifth-place Nanooks and have two games in hand. The Buckeyes are within six points of six teams ahead of them with six games to play and have games in hand on three of them, meaning a few wins would go a long way for playoff positioning.
"We're aware of our situation, and we're still right in it," junior co-captain Sergio Somma said. "Obviously, we would have liked to get more than one point last weekend, but we're trying to move forward and trying to get as many points as we can."
That one point came as a shock to a team that had started the year on fire, sweeping in-state rival Bowling Green and going 2-1-1 against Michigan State and Ferris State, a pair of teams ranked 10th in the nation when they suited up against the Buckeyes.
When Markell was asked about the team's sudden loss of the identity that had served it well in those games, he had a simple answer.
"Opportunities were coming easy to them," Markell said. "It's almost like they got bored with it."
Indeed, OSU scored in the first two minutes of both games against the Mavericks, then increased the lead to 2-0 in the first period. On the whole, the Buckeyes had five two-goal leads during the weekend and lost all of them. OSU ended up tying the first game 5-5 on Feb. 5 before losing the shootout, then fell in the series capper 4-3.
"It got away from us," Markell said. "It was our own fault. That's what I showed them today, you're doing it in the first period and then you don't do it in the third. It's not about taking risks at 3-2 or 3-1, it's about staying the course. That's what I'm peeved about."
Markell said the film study about the UNO series required thick skin from the players, who admitted they got away from what was working against the Mavericks. Crowds of more than 7,000 each night in the Qwest Center Omaha might have helped the home team as well.
"We've been focusing on sticking to our systems," junior Patrick Schafer said. "When we play our systems, we're a tough team defensively. We're just making sure we're mentally tough and getting back that way."
Some of the numbers for the team's defense are stark. The second-worst defensive team in the league, Ohio State has allowed 3.4 goals per game since the holiday break and allowed less than three in only two of eight games. The team's penalty kill has allowed goals on 7 of 19 opportunities (36.8 percent) over the last three contests.
In addition, rotating goaltenders Cal Heeter and Dustin Carlson hasn't worked out.
"I've told them, I want to run with a hot goalie," Markell said. "This time of year, you have to run with a hot goalie. I spoke to them both at the same time what my expectations are and what I need and what I want and what I'm going to do. Whoever starts on Friday, let's see how he plays and keep going forward, but they keep handing it back to me where I can make the switch. It's not what I want."
On the flip side, OSU has scored 4.1 goals per game in the last eight, led by the all-assistant captain line of Somma, Zac Dalpe and Peter Boyd. Dalpe's 28 points in conference games lead the CCHA, as do Boyd's 20 league assists. Dalpe has 15 goals, tying him for first in the conference.
"We're shooting the puck now," Markell said. "Little things are happening offensively, but defensively it's a whole different story. We have to get better defensively if we're going to go anywhere from this point on."