It's not going to take a lot of stat-crunching or heavy-hitting film analysis to determine what happened tonight in Toronto. On their way to 4-1 drubbing at the hands of the Maple Leafs the Dallas Stars were soundly dominated by a team that clearly wanted a win more than they did. It was uninspired hockey at its worst; poor passes, poor puck decisions on defense, poor positioning, poor decisions with the puck on offense and a general lack of any sort of physical presence whatsoever. The Leafs did what they needed to get a solid win but leave no doubt -- the Stars basically played like the equivalent of the leavings of a very large and smelly farm animal.
The Stars couldn't win any puck battles along the boards, failed to maintain any speed or aggression in transition or on the forecheck and allowed a patient Toronto team to sit back and wait for the Stars to make a mistake. If it weren't for several brilliant point-blank saves by Kari Lehtonen throughout the game there's a good chance tonight's score would have been similar to the last time the Stars were in Toronto -- only flipped.
The Stars did appear to wake up, but once again failed to show any life until having been punched in the mouth to the tune of a two-goal deficit. Unfortunately, when the Stars did start to built a bit of momentum and cut that lead in half, the Stars capitulated in the neutral zone and allowed another odd-man rush and the lead was very quickly back to two. The Stars never truly threatened until it was -- once again -- late in the game.
The past three games have followed very similar storylines; the Stars are outplayed through two periods and find themselves down by multiple goals around the mid-way point of the game. This time around, however, the Stars were unable to secure the comeback and instead of rejoicing the "heart" of this team we are left with the same negatives that have been plaguing the Stars for about two weeks now. The Stars will now head to Ottawa, where they must find a way to get some crucial points on the road. We aren't at that point in the season where counting every single point is needed, but the Stars are in trouble of falling far enough back in a very tough Western Conference race that recovery might be too difficult.
Specific thoughts on the game after the jump.
- The Stars are now 3-5-0 on the road for the season and -- like last year -- appear to be completely incapable of countering the matchups the home teams are forcing. The Stars are a very poor team away from the AAC and you have to think that the difference between tonight and the past two games were that Dallas didn't have that extra gear supplied by whatever size crowd the team was playing for that night. Whereas before when the Stars were able to get motivated and press harder, tonight the Stars just had no life and could never get the comeback started.
- Of course, the key would be to never get into a deficit where a comeback was needed. Once again the Stars allow a power play goal early in the game to give the opponent momentum and the Stars are never able to recover. For whatever reason, the Stars are lacking fire and internal life to start these hockey games and they're finding themselves in holes early and often -- eventually the Stars would hit a two-goal deficit they couldn't overcome.
- This game was very similar to the win over San Jose and the loss to Colorado many ways, but in one area in particular: the passing. The Stars have not been a crisp-passing team for over two weeks now, which is easily tied to the struggles the Stars have been going through in that time. The Stars have preached over the summer and heading into this season that the best defense in puck-control; well, you can't have puck control if you don't have the puck. The Stars -- at this point -- are struggling with the very basics of hockey and the rest of their game is suffering as a result. Poor passes give way to easy chances by the opponent, they give away your own scoring chances and they prohibit you from gaining any momentum within the game.
What's frustrating is seeing how the Stars suddenly found themselves able to cycle the puck late in the game, yet once again this novel approach only began once the Stars were down by multiple goals late in the game. This is going to have to stop -- and fast.
- The stat sheet may tell you that the Stars out-hit the Toronto Maple Leafs (29-21) but make no mistake: the Maple Leafs dominated the Stars physically. Whether it was along the boards, behind the net or on top of the crease -- the Stars were constantly fighting to stay on their skates. I can't remember the last time I watched this team be knocked around so badly and when you're struggling with puck possession, being easily shouldered off the puck is not an easy place to start.
- When is the last time the Stars received any sort of legitimate scoring from someone other than Brad Richards or Mike Ribeiro? Adam Burish scored against Colorado, but you could certainly point to the struggles of the past few weeks and say that the main factor in all this is the lack of secondary scoring. Early in the season this was a strength of the team -- now the Stars' third and fourth lines are failing at creating significant and consistent scoring chances.
- I thought Steve Ott played well. Jamie Benn had his moments. Brad Richards scored a goal. Kari Lehtonen was -- one again -- much better that the stats say he was. That's about all the positives I have on this one.
- The Toronto Maple Leafs blocked a lot of shots -- 27, to be exact. The Stars attempted to funnel the puck to the net but were unable to get through and past the palatial guard erected in front of Jonas Gustavsson. This was a game that showed just how much the Stars struggle with lateral movement with the puck and how a team's speed is crucial in taking advantage of teams that just sit back and defend; the Stars, right now, have little to no speed up forward.
Early this season I was convinced that this was a new and different team compared to last year. Now, I'm starting to think that the Stars are either in a two-three week funk or are much, much closer to the disappointing team from last season. I do know that Kari Lehtonen is giving the Stars more of a chance to win than they deserve and that if Lehtonen were not playing nearly every night that this season would have gone much, much more differently.
The Stars now have perhaps the worst special teams units in the NHL and it's now costing them games. No power play goals and the penalty kill -- once more -- allowed a player to get a clean deflection from the top of the point.
It's a long season and there are many, many games left to play. Yet if the Stars can't find a way to win on the road, and do it fast, then Dallas can pretty much kiss any playoff chances goodbye; you can't win on the road, you won't finish in the top eight in the conference.
Bring on Ottawa.
DBD's Three Stars of the Night
Nikolai Kulemin, Toronto: A pair of goals and pretty much owned the Stars' defense all night.
Mikhail Grabovski, Toronto: A goal and an assist and was a thorn all night long for the Stars.
Kari Lehtonen, Dallas: The stats are bad, the game was bad....but this could have easily been a 8-1 game if not for Lehtonen's strong play.