The Dallas Stars had a good effort tonight, winning the even strength possession battle for the game. Special teams was what killed them, and not in a way that usually happens for them.
The penalty kill -- the one side of special teams that generally isn't a big concern on most nights -- allowed two goals in three tries. The third goal was one with an extra attacker due to a delayed penalty call. They could have evened some of that out with their own power play, but that continued to be anemic tonight. It needs to be addressed, and with three opportunities tonight it could have helped turn the momentum around and get something going.
They lose another Central division matchup, and that record needs to be better if they want to be in the playoff hunt at all.
The Stars did a decent job at controlling play for a lot of the start of the game. It appeared that Erik Cole put the Stars up when his backhand shot hit the crossbar and bounced off the post and out. It happened so fast, the thought was it may have been a goal, but review showed it was about as close as you could get.
Cole would put them up by one (for real this time) on another backhanded shot he was able to squeak by Carter Hutton, the Predators rookie goaltender. Penalty trouble would cause the Stars to go on the penalty kill, and just a few short second later, Brenden Dillon would shoot the puck down the ice. Instead of a good hard clear, it became a delay of game penalty when the puck went up and over the glass on the other end of the ice.
Nashville would need just 11 seconds to tie the game, and would then go up 2-1 on the rest of their power play to end the first. Cody Eakin would lose the critical faceoff that led to Nashville getting possession to start the power play, and then would fail to cut off the passing lane to lead to the goal.
Both of their goals were scored within the last two minutes of the period, a situation that has been difficult for Dallas this season seemingly. They have trouble with closing out and playing the full 20 minutes in a frame, and it's often negating good play they have in periods.
I'd call this period the one of "over-watching the puck." Dallas would get caught at times in their own zone where they would get too caught up following the Predators' puck possessors instead of focusing on their own positional coverage. They would get out of position and end up with two or three players swarming the puck carrier and leaving other guys completely uncovered. It led to a few quality chances at even strength. The Stars would get a few of their own to balance it out.
They would again get into penalty trouble, and with Hutton pulled for the extra attacker, Nashville would put the game away for good. Paul Gaustad scored before the Stars could touch the puck to kill the play.
The Stars would come out swinging in the last frame, but it was just not to be. The effort was there, the puck possession was there, even their third power play of the game had good chances. They just couldn't convert on anything.
It looked as though the Stars players have lost a bit of confidence in their system. Since a lot of big guys are not scoring (Jamie Benn chief among them) there's a bit of "over-try" going on in the game. They're pursuing pucks a little bit too aggressively, allowing Nashville to simply sit back and wait for them to make their own mistakes.
A few other thoughts on tonight's game...
- The Stars may have finished the game about even in the category, but their start on faceoffs as a team was abysmal. At one point, Tyler Seguin was winning in that category -- not usually a category he wins in on a nightly basis.
- Dillon had a rough game. That delay of game penalty is so easily avoidable, and he had some defensive burps too tonight.
- Alex Chiasson didn't look terrible, and had a couple of good chances right in front of the net. I thought he actually looked better when he was outside of his typical goal scoring sweet spot. His play along the boards and on the perimeter was among the better play on the Stars tonight.
- Aaron Rome looked surprisingly ready for not having played all preseason or any NHL game this season. I expected some rust, but he wasn't noticeable in that way.
- Jamie Benn struggled against Shea Weber, and that isn't going to be any different whenever Benn is playing on the ice in Nashville. As the captain goes, so does the Stars offense it seems.