The Day That Jame Langenbrunner Returned To Dallas was overshadowed by a frustrating loss in the shootout to the New York Rangers tonight, when the Stars lost their fifth straight game at home. While the Stars did gain a very valuable point, it's a disturbing trend for a team that has exceeded all expectations this season. Yet when you enter the second half of the season on top of the Pacific division, expectations will be higher than ever and allowing an East coast team to win after the Stars led going into the third period counts as perhaps one of the more frustrating losses of the season.
We know what happened last night but if you didn't get to catch the game, I'll give you a quick rundown: The Dallas Stars came out playing strong and caught the Rangers off guard. A couple of great scoring chances were wasted until Brian Sutherby scored. The Stars allowed a soft shorthanded goal, Mike Ribeiro gave the Stars the lead again and then the Stars once again wasted prime scoring chances as the Rangers tied the game en route to a shootout win over Dallas.
It wasn't a bad game by the Stars. This team has played much worse this season and in general it was tough to find fault how the Stars played tonight overall. You also have to acknowledge just how good the New York Rangers are and how they matched up nearly perfectly against the Stars; they were physical and once they recovered a bit on defense didn't allow any space for the Stars to work with. It became a physical, ugly game and the Rangers ended up getting the extra point after the shootout.
This was a close game between two teams and aside from a bad shorthanded goal allowed, it's tough to really find much to be angry about with the Stars. Yet a couple of mental lapses at the wrong times were their ultimate undoing and this was a game that they should have won; they had the better scoring chances, they had more of them and the Stars dominated in the faceoff circle. The Stars were unable to convert the prime chances they created for themselves and in the end allowed the Rangers to tie the game following a bad change on the penalty kill.
Expectations for the Stars are higher than ever. This is a team that is obviously serious about not only making the playoffs but has plans on making noise once they get there. Before the season started a loss like tonight would have meant us fans feeling good about holding on against a good team and getting a valuable point in the playoff race. Yet after 41 games of generally great hockey, performances like tonight are ultimately disappointing.
More thoughts after the jump.
Before anyone get's frustrated with my negative take, I'll reiterate what I said above: The Dallas Stars did not play a bad game. This was a hard fought, closely matched game against a very good New York Rangers team. There is no shame in losing in the shootout against the Rangers, especially on a night in which the officials forgot what sport they were paid to watch. Yet the fact remains that the Stars did not cash in on the chances they had, especially when up a goal to start the third period, and as many felt would happen that came back and hurt the Stars dearly. The failed power play in the third period, in which the Stars barely managed an offensive push, gave the Rangers new life and allowed them the opportunity to tie the game a few minutes later.
Generally, the Stars do not have this problem. The Stars are the best in the NHL when scoring first and one of the best in the league when leading headed into the third period. This is not a trend with which we should be concerned with, as I have faith that the Stars are not going to suddenly become a team that struggles to finish games. What's happened in the past with the Stars certainly makes us wary, but I'm not concerned with that starting to happen again this season.
What is frustrating is the lack of ability to win the special teams game. Tonight, the Stars allowed a shorthanded goal and a power play goal and failed to score on a crucial power play of their own. I'm not saying that he's going to fix everything all at once, but Jamie Langenbrunner was acquired to help solve some of these problems the Stars are having -- especially with the man-advantage.
I understand the Stars are better on the power play now than earlier in the season, and scored three times on the power play in Chicago, but the Stars need to become much more consistent on both the power play and the penalty kill if they have any hopes of winning once the playoffs start. Heck, just to get to the playoffs they'll need to become more consistent with the man advantage.
The Stars have a division-heavy schedule coming up the second half of the season and in those games it will become imperative that the Stars not allow games to go to overtime and beyond. The Stars are where they are now in the standing because of a generally superb record in overtime and the shootout; this is not how you close out a division title, however. You cannot give away points to division rivals even while winning, and becoming much more dangerous and consistent on special teams is a very good way to drastically improve in this area.
Special teams lost the Stars a valuable point tonight. That cannot happen much more this season.
I thought Philip Larsen looked better tonight. He's still very, very green on defense but made several good passes in transition. The Rangers definitely pressured him into making some decisions with the puck and he generally did well, save for a few lapses in judgment. Where his presence was certainly felt the most was from the point -- especially on the power play -- where he is not afraid to let loose with a cannon of a shot.
If he could only stop hesitating before shooting, then he'd become much more dangerous.
DBD's Three Stars: