I think it's games like this that the Stars miss Jamie Benn and Adam Burish the most.
Without those two high-energy players, Dallas struggled to keep up with the Blue Jackets in a 2-1 loss. This was a big game, too. As Ralph and Razor pointed out multiple times during the game, the Stars could find themselves in a rather precarious position depending on how this week plays out.
Have a good week, and they stay on top of the division for the time being. Have a bad week, and they could find themselves outside of the playoff picture.
So with that in mind, the Stars couldn't afford to let the Jackets get ahead of them early on. Dallas has been plagued by slow starts lately, and this afternoon was no different. Brad Richards managed to get the Stars on the board first with a wrister that beat Steve Mason on the power play, but the Stars couldn't hold the fort for more than a minute. The Jackets got a shot off the faceoff, and Kari Lehtonen gave up a juicy rebound to Matt Calvert, tying the game up at one apiece.
The Stars then proceeded to get outshot 12-2 for the rest of the period. But thanks to about five brilliant stops by Kari Lehtonen, Columbus couldn't widen their advantage. Dallas came out looking better in the second period, but couldn't get anything by Steve Mason. Rick Nash scored a pretty goal for the Jackets to give Columbus their first lead of the game.
Dallas picked things up a little more in the third. On what seemed like their fiftieth power play, Stephane Robidas was stymied by Mason off a one-timer from Richards. Mike Ribeiro had a great look by the net, but hesitated too long to get a shot off. Steve Ott had a brilliant chance off of a turnover, but couldn't elevate his backhand shot over the pad of Mason. And on and on and on. The game ended in a 2-1 loss.
My thoughts on the game after the jump....
- I'm just going to throw this out there: You aren't going to win many hockey games when you come up short on five consecutive power plays. The Stars were 1-for-6 today, with the only goal coming from Brad Richards. There's a couple of things playing into the ineptness. I think by now opposing teams know full well that three things are going to happen when the Stars go on the power play: that A) everything will funnel through Brad Richards, B) they will constantly try to get the high-tip on Loui Eriksson, and C) Mike Ribeiro will try and get it to the net from the side boards. Same thing every time. If you're wondering why there's no puck movement lately, it's because opposing PK units know exactly which passing lanes to clog up. Would it kill to see a little creativity?
- Faceoffs, faceoffs, faceoffs. I had no idea that the Stars were the best faceoff team in 2011, but today it didn't seem to matter much. Dallas got off to another slow start in the first period, but kept digging themselves into a deeper hole with every lost faceoff. The Stars were lucky Kari Lehtonen was so brilliant early on, or they could've been down 3 goals again.
- Losing Nicklas Grossman to injury really hurt, I think. Yeah, he hasn't been playing well, but his absence forced everyone else on the blueline to play extended shifts. It caught up to them at the end of the game, as the puck movement from the defense just wasn't where it should be. Not horrible, but not enough.
- Give some credit to the Columbus grinders, though, because they neutralized the Stars' top line all game long. Loui Eriksson looked lost, James Neal looked frustrated, and Brad Richards looked ineffective. The Stars like to dump and chase a lot, but Columbus played the boards too well today for that strategy to work.
- I thought the Morrow-Ribeiro-Vincour line was the best on the ice for Crawford. Morrow was physical behind the net and Ribs played the puck well. And I don't know what it is with Vincour, but it seems he plays splendidly no matter who Crawford plays him with. He had a couple of shots and a number of chances, and seemed to really gel with Morrow and Ribeiro out there. With Jamie Langenbrunner struggling to produce, maybe Vincour should fill that right-handed winger role on the second line.
- Speaking of Langs, it was another frustrating game for the veteran. It's not like he's not getting chances, it's that the puck isn't bouncing the right way for him. At some point you've got to think he'll break through, but it's not clicking right now.
- Finally, what a wasted effort by Kari Lehtonen. He played the game he needed to play tonight behind a banged up team, and somehow kept them in it till the very end. He challenged the shooters very well, and his glove hand was even quicker than usual. If Steve Mason hadn't had an equally fantastic game, Kari might've skated out with a W today.