Last year’s women’s hockey team had a historic season by any measure. The Elis broke the school record for wins, notched their first playoff wins ever and beat Harvard for the first time in two decades.

But despite last year’s successes and the return of many top players, this year’s team seems to be stumbling out of the gate.

While the Bulldogs (1-2-1, 1-1-1 ECAC) returned from this weekend’s New York road trip with a split, Sunday’s loss to Colgate (3-3-2, 2-0-0) only added to the doubts raised by the Elis’ winless performance in last weekend’s season-opening Nutmeg Classic. After a tie with Quinnipiac and a 3-0 loss to Connecticut in the Classic, a win over Cornell (0-2-0, 0-2-0) Saturday and the loss to Colgate leave the Bulldogs barely clinging to fourth place in the ECAC.

“We have a very strong team, so to have started the season off 1-2-1 is a disappointment,” said goalkeeper Sarah Love ’06. “The good news is that it is early in the season.”

The Elis haven’t just started their season slow — they’ve been starting their games poorly, too. Despite their subpar performance in the Nutmeg Classic, which defender Danielle Kozlowski ’09 called “a wake-up call for our team,” the Bulldogs have still been coming out of the gate flat, often finding themselves outshot or at least outplayed early in games.

While the Bulldogs were able to score early and hold a lead against Cornell, nothing was clicking when the team traveled to Colgate. Outshot 18-5 in the first period, the Bulldogs were outclassed on both ends of the ice. Carly McNaughton’s shot on a Colgate power play got past Love and put the Raiders up 1-0 at 4:32. Less than three minutes later, Becky Irvine made it 2-0 on a breakaway, cutting across the net and sliding the puck through the five hole.

The Elis have consistently played their best hockey late in games, notching, on average, three more shots on goal in the third period than in the first. The Colgate game was no different. After a Raider power-play goal early in the second, the Elis dominated, outshooting their hosts 20-7 in the second and third frames.

The barrage Colgate goalie Brook Wheeler faced soon resulted in Yale goals. Jenna Spring ’07 scored on a power play at 9:20 in the second, and Kristin Savard ’07 closed the gap to 3-2 with an even-strength tally less than six minutes later. But despite the two goals, the Elis had dug themselves into a hole they wouldn’t be able to get out of. When Yale head coach Hilary Witt pulled Love for an extra attacker late in the third, Ashley Bradford was able to take advantage, putting the game out of reach with an empty-netter with 1:27 left in the third.

Kelsey Johnson ’07 said the Bulldogs’ play in the final two periods Sunday made the loss hurt that much more.

“We played some of the best hockey I’ve seen this team play in the last two periods of the Colgate game,” Johnson said. “That’s what made this loss so much more frustrating.”

Although the Bulldogs beat Cornell on Saturday, the win still betrayed signs of the problems the team has been dealing with. The two teams played each other evenly through the first, but the Elis were able to get lucky on power plays. Spring and Caplette both scored early and Yale came out of the first up 2-0. But the offense didn’t really get going until the second, when the Elis outshot the Big Red 15-4 and Sheila Zingler ’07 notched an unassisted goal that rung the crossbar as it sailed past Cornell goalie Beth Baronick.

Savard scored at 7:52 in the third to make it 4-0 Yale, but the Big Red soon pulled Baronick and put in an extra attacker, scoring twice in just over a minute to cut the Yale lead in half with less than five minutes to go. Savard’s second goal of the period was a much-needed insurance empty-netter with 1:10 to play, taking the pressure off Love and securing the Eli win.

Despite early scoring, the Bulldogs’ play in the win mirrored their play in the losses — starting slow and picking up steam. Even though Cornell put an extra skater on for part of the third, the Elis still managed more shots on goal in that period than they had in the first. One significant difference, however, was on special teams. The Bulldogs went 2-for-6 on power plays and denied Cornell on all four of its extra-skater chances. The Bulldogs have yet to win a game in which they give up a power-play goal.

Love said she’d like to see more high-quality play from special teams.

“We haven’t been particularly sharp on our penalty kill, so taking dumb penalties is hurting us right now,” Love said. “We can’t afford to take penalties because someone is out of position or is being lazy. Our PK was very strong last year, and it needs to be very strong again.”

Next weekend the Elis are at home to face Boston College and New Hampshire, two solid non-conference teams. Spring said last year’s successes mean the team is looking to fix their problems earlier and not accept early losses.

“We’re hoping to figure it out and get a few wins this weekend to build on,” she said. “We haven’t been able to put together a full game yet this year, so we’re going to work on our preparation and focus.”