Stargazing: Stars Collapse Continues in Pittsburgh, Lose 6-3

Poise [poiz] noun, verb, poised, pois-ing: a dignified, self-confident manner or bearing; composure; self-possession. steadiness; stability:

Up 3-1 in the second period with a quiet Mellon Arena and a rather agitated Marc Andre Fleury, I mistakenly tweeted the following: "They've given Lehtonen everything he needs now, but there's a ton of hockey left to play."

A two goal lead, at the time, felt like it would probably be good enough. This was going to be the day the offense unclogged the old pipes and everyone got a point! The bounces were going to go their way and the bitter taste of having given up 5 and 6 six goal in consecutive games would be washed away. 3 goals not even halfway through the game felt like an offensive bonanza. They were playing hard for their new guy, I was sure of it.

Then they pulled the rug out from underneath of us. Again. You'd think I would learn, but I so badly wanted to believe them, because no matter how silly it sounds: There really is still time. The Stars inexplicably lost no ground on Saturday night. They're still only 4 points back. A good week would bump them up the standings a spot or two. We saw it right before the break. The question is, do they have a good week in them? A look at the schedule would suggest otherwise.

Losing on the road to the Stanley Cup Champion Penguins and Sidney Crosby mightn't be anything to fret over, depending on how you go about it. Losing a 2 goal second period lead is. Coaches always talk about playing a "simple road game." You limit your mistakes, you play some defense, you hang back in the neutral zone and prevent the bevy of odd-man rushes a team like Pirttsburgh tries to create, particularly if you manage to grab a lead. Except they didn't do any of that. They weren't trying particularly hard to increase their lead, and they weren't making a concerted effort to shield Kari Lehtonen from the Penguin snipers.

They had the same meandering, scatter-brained, purposeless demeanor we saw against St. Louis and Los Angeles. They had no poise. Neither did their goaltender, harsh though it may be to point any fingers in his direction.

Today on Stargazing, we're going to talk about this some more, believe it or not...

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Mike Heika was equally unimpressed with their poise:

The key to the game in Pittsburgh, to me, was that the Stars failed to elevate their game at key times when they could have taken control.

They had a 3-1 lead in the second period, and could not clamp down on defense.

After losing the 3-1 lead and getting behind 4-3, they had a chance to tie the game with a 5-on-3 power play on fresh ice to start the third period. They not only didn't score, they gave up a short-handed goal to pretty much end the game.

They could not elevate their offense there.

And offers a most disturbing stat:

The Stars this season after 64 games are 28-24-12 for 68 points and have scored 180 goals.

The Stars last season with all of their injury problems and their need to play simple hockey after 64 games were 30-26-8 for 68 points and had scored 182 goals.

Huh?

This is what the investment in offensive hockey is getting this team? Seriously, I don't know where the upside is. If the Stars' team defense is so much worse than it has been in the past under Dave Tippett's conservative ways, shouldn't the offense at least make up for the lack of defensive play?

He goes on, and it gets worse. Head over to the DMN to check it out.

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Check out Pensburgh as they recap the action:

The Penguins did well today in exposing the Stars through cross-ice passes.  Kris Letang had two assists, Sergei Gonchar had two as well and Jordan Leopold and Alex Goligoski also got an assists, a lot of those through long, stretching passes that exposed the Dallas defense.

After Dallas jumped out to an early 3-1 lead, the Penguins took over and put their stamp on the game and rallied back with five straight goals.  Chris Kunitz on a perfect shot after a great pass from Sidney Crosby, Pascal Dupuis again making things happen with his 15th of the season, Crosby bounced one in off of Trevor Daley, Crosby scored short-handed on a two-on-one break with Jordan Staal and Alexei Ponikarovsky collected a bouncing puck on the PP and buried a shot.

"Exposed the Dallas defense."

I've got the Trevor Daley bounce count at 5 this year, but I could be wrong. Wouldn't that be an interesting video compilation...

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Richard Durrett at ESPN Dallas highlights the special teams:

The power play is 1-for-14 in the last three games. And to make things worse on Saturday, the Stars allowed a shorthanded goal on a 5-on-3 in the third period. Sidney Crosby gave in with Jordan Staal on a 2-on-1 and Crosby went high on Lehtonen (waiting for him to go down before depositing it top shelf).

That was the sequence of the game. Well, one of two. The first was when the Stars had a chance to go up 4-2 when MAF absolutely stoned Brad Richards with the stick, and moments later the Penguins scored to tie the game. The 5 on 3 was the real nail in the coffin. If you'd have told everyone they'd have a 5 on 3 in the third period with a chance to get the score to even, I think they'd have taken it. Instead they cough up a shorty and that was pretty much it.

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This game was all over Puck Daddy yesterday:

No. 3 Star: Sidney Crosby(notes), Pittsburgh Penguins

Crosby gave Pittsburgh the lead in the second and then helped put away the Dallas Stars with a shorthanded goal in the third for his 44th goal, as the Penguins rallied for a 6-3 victory. Sid's on top of the goal-scoring leader board in the NHL. Alexei Ponikarovsky(notes) scored in his Penguins' debut.

Dishonorable mention: Matt Niskanen(notes) was a minus-3 and Kari Lehtonen(notes) was lit up for six goals in his first start for the Stars.

Matt Niskanen is starting to get national acclaim for his defensive prowess.

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Mark Stepneski has a lot of good notes over at Andrew's Stars Page:


The bottom line: teams are stepping it up a notch as the season heads down the stretch, and the Stars just can't seem to match it. They seem overwhelmed at times. They seem to crack when things go wrong. That's the way they looked once the Penguins got rolling after falling behind 3-1.

Kari Lehtonen looked rusty, as you'd expect. This is his second NHL game and his first start in almost one year. He's not going to be up to speed in any area. It's going to take him a few games to get into game playing condition. You can't simulate that in practice. It's unfortunate that he gets thrown into the mix when things are a mess in front of him.

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Quotes: [LINK]

Mike Modano:

"Having a 3-1 lead, that looked like a big turnaround," veteran Mike Modano said. "We had a good start to the second, and then all of a sudden the bottom fell out.

"Every mistake we seem to make now just ends up in our net, so it's magnified 1,000 times."

Brenden Morrow:

"It's no secret that you're not going to win much giving up 5 or 6 goals a game," said Stars captain Brenden Morrow. "You look at some of these teams right now, we might be outmatched on paper and we've got to want it more. It looked like we did at the start of the game. A couple of undisciplined type plays and they get back in the game."

"We're not going to win many hockey games if we aren't willing to pay the price to do what ever it takes to win," said Morrow. "If you look at our schedule, we've got some real tough opponents and we've got to be focused."

"It's prime scoring chances for the other team. Whether it's Kari or Marty back there, they are battling as hard as they can. We've got to defend as six guys. We can't leave one or two guys out there to defend for us."

Marc Crawford:

"I can say the goalie looked fatigued tonight and we're confident he's going to get better,'' Stars coach Marc Crawford said.

Mike Ribeiro:

"That power play didn’t generate much, and they came back and scored at the end of it," Ribeiro said. "That was the game."

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Finally, Razor offers glass half full and glass half empty takes as popular television personalities that I don't really know because I don't watch those kinds of shows. Anyway, here's the pessimistic one:

Everything and everyone is out of wack. You’re not going to make the playoffs. Come on, let’s be serious here. The defense is mistake prone at best, feeble and understaffed at worst. The goaltending has been erratic and unable to be the savior it needs to be. The one line that has been left intact – Richards, Neal and Eriksson – has produced most of the offense – for both teams. The others have been a hodge podge which has been reflected in their production, or lack there of. You play with very little structure and are easily torn apart by well-coached opponents. The record in games decided by 3 or more goals is evidence of this. Thanks to the 5-1 and 6-1 defeats this week you’re now 5-12 in such games. That’s 12 of your 23 regulation losses by at least 3 goals, blowouts. What ever happened to “bend don’t break”?! Some key individuals, including your captain, seem frustrated and unhappy with the roles they’ve been assigned while others appear confused, bewildered, browbeat, or overwhelmed. And above all you generally seem uninterested in banding together, or playing for one another. Look, you’re a nice enough team but this isn’t for you. You’re not a playoff team. For me it’s a definite no.

If you prefer the more sunshiney approach, visit Razor here.

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