Lindy Ruff wasn't about to mince words Tuesday night at the American Airlines Center.
"Maybe a little luck they had early, but mentally I didn't like our preparation. Took the early penalties; some of those I thought were ones we could have avoided and they put us in a hole. And even to kill the 5-on-3 off and then let go of coverage and give Kane a breakaway - that's inexcusable. Just on a mental side, that falls on my shoulders."
It was a discouraging loss in more ways than one for the Stars, who had picked up points in their previous six games (3-0-3), including two against those very same Hawks.
Not only was the scoreboard lopsided, but the Stars quality of play was several noticeable degrees lower than Chicago's. The first line, the power play, the defending, the transition play... about the only positive the Stars could take out of the game was the two goals from Antoine Roussel.
There are plenty of excuses the Stars could fall back on for the game - playing without two key defensemen and a very young blueline against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the loss of a center who'd been a part of one of their hottest lines recently.
Instead, they expressed only disgust with their own performance.
"I think it's by far the worst game we've played all year," center Shawn Horcoff said after the game. "You know we're just going to have to put that behind us. I think we're a team that prides ourselves on our work ethic and our skating. We're a tough team to beat and we can play with any team in the League but tonight was just not the case."
In the relentless march of a hockey season, especially one compressed by the Olympics, the real question is how will the group respond.
The most recent run of points in six straight came directly after a whipping at the hands of the St. Louis Blues, a 6-1 loss at Scottrade Center. That game was more evenly played than the loss to the Hawks, though the score was equally out of hand, and the Stars came back three days later with a 6-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks behind one of those three-goals-in-one-minute outbursts.
Before that, after a 5-2 loss to the Hawks, the Stars ran off three wins in a row on a Western Canadian road swing. In fact, the last time the Stars did not bounce back for a win after a multi-goal loss was way back in late October with the back-to-back losses at Los Angeles and Anaheim.
In total, the Stars had six multi-goal losses before Tuesday's loss to Chicago, and they have won four of the following games. The two loses both came in October when Kari Lehtonen was sidelined with a groin injury. So this team has demonstrated the ability to rebound from a bad loss.
It's something the Stars will need on a key Central Division road swing to Nashville, Winnipeg and Colorado. Winnipeg and Nashville are just behind the Stars in the standings, though the Stars have several games in hand, and the Avalanche are currently clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. It's still too early to start with the complicated standings math, but the Stars haven't been very good against the Central so far this year, and now would be the time to turn that around.
The upside for the Stars is they've played very well on the road recently - for some reason, the power play isn't nearly as impotent away from the American Airlines Center. And a roadtrip as a group might be one of the best things for the suddenly-young defense to start gelling off the ice and on.
"This is a good character test," Ruff said. "Bounce back from a game that we were collectively a bad team and a bad effort. There's nothing we can find in this game that's going to make anyone happy. It's a game you don't even look at. We weren't good enough with our system and we didn't win enough one-on-one puck battles, they won the majority and they won the war at the end of the night."
The war has been lost, at least for the night, and there are plenty of excuses the Stars could lean on as a crutch. But the real story will be written by how this young team responds to the adversity.