That's why Friday's slow start against the Tampa Bay Lightning was so frustrating. This is not a team that can afford to take the first period off. Even some late flurries in the third period weren't enough to make up for 30 minutes of lacksadasical play, and Teddy Purcell and the Lightning took advange for a 2-1 victory at the American Airlines Center.
Purcell put Tampa on top early when he took advantage of some poor coverage in front of the Dallas net and beat Kari Lehtonen one-on-one. But the first could have been much worse if Lehtonen hadn't made a serious of spectacular stops on Steven Stamkos, one of the hottest goal scorers in the NHL at the moment.
Tom Wandell finally broke through for the Stars in the third when the puck bounced off his skate, then off Mathieu Garon and into the Lightning net. The lead didn't last long, though, as Purcell toe-dragged Sheldon Souray on a 3-on-3 and slipped the puck past Lehtonen for the eventual game winner.
The Stars power play struggled at times but did create some chances in the third period, and several players, including Adam Burish, Steve Ott and Alex Goligoski, had prime opportunities they couldn't put on net.
In all, it's another frustrating night as the Stars search for answers without their top offensive players. Some additional thoughts after the jump.
- The first period was pretty inexcusable from everyone on the Stars save Kari Lehtonen. I don't know what it is about this team and getting up for some of the lesser sisters in the NHL like the Blue Jackets and Lightning, but it's gone from slightly perturbing to extremely worrying, especially over the last month. The Stars were out-hustled, out-battled and basically out-worked for the first 20 minutes, something that wasn't the case in losses to the St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings. Sure, things got better as the game went along, and Lehtonen's brilliance kept this from getting too out of hand, but it's a problem the team has to address and soon.
- That said, even though the offense never came, some of the flurries the Stars created in the second and third period were encouraging. Trevor Daley, who is playing like a man possessed at the moment, was a big part of a lot of those rushes, as was Alex Goligoski, who had a very strong game in the offensive zone.
- To say offense is at a premium for the Stars right now is putting things mildly. Since Jamie Benn went out of the lineup after the loss to the Colorado Avalanche, the Stars have combined to score three goals in three games off the sticks of Wandell, Brenden Morrow and Loui Eriksson. While it's certainly understandable that the loss of Benn on top of the loss of Ribeiro is a huge factor, the rest of the team simply has to get more shots on net.
- I let out a huge sigh of relief when Vernon Fiddler got up after being creamed into the boards by Ryan Malone, likewise when Loui Eriksson popped up after being boarded by Dominic Moore. Neither hit was particularly malicious in my mind, but both were in exceedingly dangerous areas of the ice, and both sent players head first into the dasher. Malone's hit, in particular, was not a very violent collision upon replay, though it was definitely a cross check. They just illustrate why the league is cracking down on reckless hits around the boards.
- His team might have won, but I bet Steven Stamkos is going to spend much of the next day wondering how he didn't manage to get at least one by Lehtonen. He had several premium first-period opportunities. Lehtonen is looking more and more like the goalie we saw before the groin injury, and it's almost criminal that he has two losses in his last two games.
- It was nice to see a goal from Wandell, even if it was more of a funky bounce that a beautiful rush up the ice. The young center has looked dangerous at times, particularly when coming through with speed. He just needs to find a way to turn that into more scoring chances and not weak shots or drop passes to no one.
- The power play. Oh, the power play. While it created a few chances, especially as the game wore on, it's still a bit of a mess with not enough movement and predictable (and messy) zone entries. Some of this is a personnel issue, as the lines are scrambled and missing two very dynamic playmakers. But even with those playmakers, the PP units were often less-than-effective, and they often suck out more momentum than they build.
- Now 0-3-1 in their last four games, these two contests before the all-star break are absolutely critical for Dallas. The Minnesota Wild are reeling as badly if not worse right now, and although the Anaheim Ducks have finally put together a winning streak, they're the type of team Dallas has to pick up points against to not fall further and further out of the race for the final playoff spots.
- Even with all the problems they've had recently, the Stars are still in control of their own destiny, particularly if they beat Minnesota tomorrow. The Stars are in a three-way tie for 10th with the Calgary Flames and Phoenix Coyotes at 50 points, but Dallas has played only 46 games while the other two are at 48. Minnesota has 51 points with 47 games played and eighth-place Colorado is at 52 points with 48 games played. It feels too early to be scoreboard watching, but things are not quite as dire as they could be.
18:48 TBL Teddy Purcell (10) Wrist - Assists : Marty St Louis (28) and Bruno Gervais (4)
1:22 DAL Tom Wandell (3) ASST: Loui Eriksson (25)
3:36 TBL Teddy Purcell (11) Backhand - ASST: Marty St Louis (29) and Vincent Lecavalier (19)
Defending Big D 3 Stars
2 - Kari Lehtonen
3 - Mathieu Garron