Chalk it up to traditional post-break rustiness, or perhaps place the blame on old-fashioned poor play.
Whatever the reason, the men's hockey team took a step backward in its first three games after a two-week layoff, dropping all three contests to fall to 6-10-3 overall on the season.
A 6-2 loss to Rensselaer Friday and a 3-1 loss to Union Saturday at Baker Rink left Princeton tied for seventh in the Eastern College Athletic Conference with a 4-5-3 league record. Princeton also lost, 6-2, to UMass-Lowell Jan. 23 at Baker.
"Coming off exams, we only had two practices," sophomore forward Brad Parsons said. "We weren't really in a good position."
Poor special teams play doomed the Tigers. Princeton held early leads against both RPI and Union, but the Tigers' inability to take advantage of power-play opportunities prevented Princeton from holding onto or building on those leads.
The Tigers converted on just three of 21 chances with the man advantage over the three games, but more devastating were the three shorthanded goals opponents scored when Princeton had the extra skater.
"The past couple games we've been having trouble [on the power play]," Parsons said. "I think we're just getting aggravated that we haven't been putting the puck in the net on the power play."
Friday's matchup with RPI (15-7-2, 7-4-1) marked the first time the two teams had met since the Engineers defeated the Tigers, 6-4, in the consolation game of last year's ECAC tournament. That loss knocked Princeton out of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Friday's contest also marked the first of 11 consecutive ECAC games for the Tigers.
Princeton took an early 1-0 lead and looked to add to it with a power-play opportunity midway through the first period. Yet the Tigers' fortunes turned as the Engineers' Marc Cavosie beat sophomore goaltender Dave Stathos for a shorthanded goal to even the score.
Midway through the third period, with the Tigers trailing 3-2, Cavosie struck again during a Princeton power play. Cavosie's third goal with four minutes, 56 seconds remaining in the game sealed the outcome.
With a pair of losses to open the second half of their season, Saturday night's game against Union (7-14-1, 5-6-1) looked to be the perfect opportunity for the Tigers to get back on track. The Dutchmen garnered just one league victory a year ago, and while improved, still figured to be one of the easier opponents on the Tigers' ECAC schedule.
The Dutchmen, though, had other intentions. Junior forward Kirk Lamb gave Princeton a 1-0 lead with 9:00 remaining in the first period, but Union struck twice in the next five minutes to take a 2-1 lead.
Behind strong defensive efforts and solid goaltending, neither team could find the back of the net for the next 43 minutes until the Dutchmen sealed the verdict with an empty-net goal. The Tigers managed just 18 shots on goal. Freshman goalie Nate Nomeland and Stathos combined to turn aside 27 of 29 shots.
"We focus on the Friday night team that we're playing," Parsons said. "It's not like we leave Union behind, but it's good to focus on one team. It's not that we overlooked them. They just outplayed us."
In their first game following a two-week layoff for exams, the Tigers battled back from an early 2-0 deficit to UMass-Lowell (7-16-1) to knot the score at two early in the third period. The Tigers, however, came apart at the seams as the River Hawks ran off the game's final four tallies, including a momentum-changing shorthanded goal with 16:04 remaining in the final stanza that gave Lowell a 3-2 lead.
Princeton will have the opportunity to end its skid this weekend, when the Tigers' ECAC slate continues at Clarkson Friday and at St. Lawrence Saturday.
"I think another week of practice is going to be really good for us," Parsons said. "Hopefully it will work out, and we can get some wins."