Things started out well for the Stars against the Columbus Blue Jackets, but too many penalties and too many breakdowns led to 2-1 loss at Nationwide Arena.
The Stars came out flying in the first period but got into penalty trouble in the second and turnover trouble in the third. A power play goal from Philip Larsen wouldn't be nearly enough for Dallas to erase all the mistakes.
Here's how things went in Columbus...
There wasn't a lot to write home about for either team in the first 20 minutes.
Despite giving up three power play opportunities, the Stars had the better of the play, outshooting the Jackets 9-3 and getting the better of the quality scoring chances as well. The Jackets couldn't muster a shot for the first 13 minutes of the period.
The biggest problem for Dallas was the penalties, though two of the calls were of the weaker variety. Philip Larsen continued his status as team's biggest troublemaker by picking up a borderline boarding call early. Eric Nystrom took an even more questionable interference call late, and that was almost immediately followed up by a well-deserved high-sticking call against Jordie Benn.
The Stars got on the power play once but were unable to generate any offense.
After all the special team time in the first, it was fitting that a power play goal opened the scoring for Dallas. After a few stuttering starts, Alex Goligoski and Jamie Benn connected to find an open Larsen just inside the blue line. Larsen's shot slipped past a high screen from Brenden Morrow and beat Sergei Bobrovsky, who had no idea where the shot was coming from.
That goal wouldn't have happened if not for a spectacular save from Kari Lehtonen. Jack Johnson's shot deflected on the way to the net and rolled up over Lehtonen's left shoulder. As the Blue Jacket in front of his net raised his arms to celebrate, Lehtonen twisted around to his left and snagged the puck out of midair.
The rest of the period was almost all Columbus as the Stars once again got themselves in penalty trouble. Vernon Fiddler's stick wrapped around the midsection of Derek Dorsett, and when Dorsett let go and raised his hands to look for the call, the stick rose up and popped him in the face. It was a double minor that was compounded when Tom Wandell fell on the puck after a faceoff.
That left Columbus with two full minutes of 5-on-3, and although it wasn't always pretty, the Stars penalty killing held firm with big contributions from Cody Eakin and Lehtonen.
After all that work, the Stars gave up the lead after Jaromir Jagr and Loui Eriksson got caught deep in the offensive zone, leading to a 4-on-2 break for the Jackets. Columbus got what they hadn't had on the power plays - good, crisp puck movement - and found an open Dorsett for a open one-timer.
Morrow nearly connected on the power play to open the period, but it was the Jackets who broke the 1-1 tie. Vinny Prospal's shot from behind the blue line banked off players and front and through Lehtonen's legs.
The Stars got a power play about halfway through the period but again couldn't quite connect. And while they certainly looked better in the second half of the period, they couldn't string together truly dangerous scoring chances as the Jackets dropped back into a prevent defense.
Jagr whiffing on a nicely set-up shot with about 10 seconds left was a pretty appropriate ending for a game I'm sure the Stars would rather forget.
All in all, it was a disappointing effort after a strong start to the game. The Stars look like a team that still hasn't gelled. And while that makes some sense given the off-season changes, it's still frustrating to watch.
The good, the bad and the ugly
There isn't a whole lot of good from that game, especially the second half, but I'll start with those tonight because everyone needs a pick-me-up.
- Cody Eakin was a real fireplug (no pun intended with that red hair of his), and Brenden Morrow played one of his better games of the season. Eakin brings tremendous energy to the forecheck and in special-teams situations, while Morrow showed exactly why he's still on the power play with a textbook high screen that made the Larsen goal possible. On a night where so many players looked a half-step out of sync, these two were on the ball.
- Also good, getting the return of Jamie Benn out of the way. He made a big difference in terms of setting up the Stars offense, particularly on the power play. He's deceptively fast, strong on the puck and, while not quite in midseason form, brings a new dimension to the offense.
- The penalty kill was really up against it at times and came through. It wasn't always the... prettiest execution, but it was effective.
- Kari Lehtonen will get a mention here. He will be the first to tell you he wants the second Jackets' goal back. It might have bounced off of his own player (I'm fairly certain it his Larsen and snuck in), but even so, those are the goals that just should go in. Even so, he was once again the only reason the Stars were in the game to begin with, as he was nothing short of spectacular, especially in the second period.
- Because of that, you can make a case that the Stars are not that far from winning some of these games. Every single game they've played this season has been decided by one goal, much of that due to Lehtonen's brilliance. They have their chances late in close games. They simply aren't coming through yet.
- Now onto the bad - Jamie Benn. As great as he is, he looked like a guy who hadn't played with his linemates. Benn, Eriksson and Jagr, but particularly Benn and Jagr, were always a half-step out of sync. As Benn works his way back into the lineup, I assume much of that will go away. But it contributed to the frustration of the night.
- In fact, the whole team looked like they were not quite clicking. I guess you could attribute some of that to the Jackets defense, but in general, it seemed more like they were just on different pages. And the sad thing is, that makes sense. This team had massive turnover of its skilled forwards in the offseason, and they are playing like it. If you look at the teams who are just killing it right now - St. Louis, Chicago, San Jose, Pittsburgh - there's very little turnover at the tops of those groups. The bad news for teams like Dallas is there's no wiggle room in the shortened season.
- The penalty problems have got to stop. Sure, some of them are weak calls. But the Stars put themselves in position to take those silly little calls. Philip Larsen, for instance, did nail a guy in the numbers when the guy was at a dangerous distance from the boards. Was it boarding? I wouldn't have called it, but he put himself in the position to have it be a possibility. Eric Nystrom, similarly, stopped moving his legs when he was called for interference in the second. Little things like that - and like keeping those sticks on the ice - are just killing the Stars this season.
- From a tactical standpoint, I don't understand the Stars insistence on the dump-and-chase offense. While the idea may be to avoid turnovers at the blueline, it's also preventing the Stars from setting up any sort of sustained zone presence. This team has been at its best this season when entering the zone with possession. The only goal tonight was on a power-play where the Stars entered the zone cleanly and executed a nice play. Especially as the game went on, I didn't understand why the offense went to more dump-and-chase rather than attempting a transition game.
- Other than Eakin, Morrow and Lehtonen (and to a lesser extent, Benn), none of the Stars were particularly good tonight. The defense as a whole struggled to move the puck out of the zone, let alone up the ice, and the forwards were just a step slow. Even normally uber-reliable guys like Eriksson and Jagr were part of the problem - the two were caught up ice at the end of a shift that led to the 4-on-2 that tied the game.
- The Stars don't have much time to dwell on this one. They will stay overnight in Columbus before flying to Detroit tomorrow for the final game of this quick road swing. This pessimist would says this team has a pretty abysmal record on the back-end of back-to-backs, but the optimist would say the effort couldn't be much more uninspiring and that the Stars played some of their best hockey of the season against the Red Wings. Only you can decide where you fall in those camps.