Things fell apart in the second period for the Stars, and they were never able to get themselves back on track in the 7-3 loss. Defensive holes and way too many individual drivers pulling different directions were the Stars undoing for the third consecutive game.
For a while, it looked like the Stars might actually have their game back on track. Jamie Benn picked off an errant pass deep in the New York zone early in the game and quickly roofed the NHL's most accurate shot for a 1-0 Dallas lead. Erik Cole soon followed up with his hot hands as a shot off the face off snuck through several bodies to give his team a 2-0 lead after one.
Then, the second period happened.
The problems started in the second for Dallas with an offensive-zone penalty, when Antoine Roussel got his hands and stick high on Casey Cizkas in the Islanders crease. New York carved up the Stars penalty killing with passes through the box and eventually converted on a rebound by Ryan Strome, his first NHL goal.
John Tavares tied the game six minutes later, and the Islanders took the lead just two minutes after that when they again cut apart the Stars defense deep in the Stars zone. Four Stars were staring at the puck while no one actually covered the open guy on the back door.
It looked for a moment like the Stars had life in them when Valeri Nichushkin chunked a loose puck in the crease past Poulin, a rare power play goal. But Brock Nelson came up with the individual effort when it mattered, twisting Alex Goligoski inside out and freezing Kari Lehtonen for the tie-breaking goal with 18 seconds left in the second.
The Islanders put it away early in the third when they took advantage of some particularly poor defense on a 3-on-2, from Erik Cole's step in the neutral zone to Connauton's questionable defensive gap control, and Brian Streit's shot slipped through both Gonchar and Lehtonen.
It only got worse for the Stars, who continued to struggle with neutral and defensive zone coverage. A legitimate bad bounce at the blue line on the penalty kill snowballed as Brenden Dillon got caught in no-man's land on a low 2-on-1. He was probably thinking defend the pass, since the Stars were beat backdoor about 432 times earlier in the game, but that allowed Tavares, best player on the ice at that point, to walk out for a free backhand that he put through Lehtonen.
Tavares sprinkled salt in the wound by converting a 5-on-3 for his hat trick. Goligoski and Shawn Horcoff converged in front of him on the play, but neither ended up actually blocking the shot.
More thoughts from my sofa
- That's the most goals given up this season, as you might expect, and there's not much good to say about the Stars defensive effort in this one. Lehtonen saved the team's bacon a few times in the first or it could have been a lot worse.
- Antoine Roussel and Ryan Garbutt need to find themselves in the press box sooner rather than later if they aren't going to cut out the stupid, unnecessary offensive-zone penalties. I like "hockey the hard way" and truculence and a physical edge, but they are ended up in the box way too often on preventable calls and hurting their team. You can argue this entire game turned when Roussel got his hands up on the Islanders defenseman for no good reason.
- The defense, even with the slightly-out-of-step reinforcements, was not good. But neither was the team defense from the forwards, who were repeatedly confounded by how the Islanders were able to move the puck in the upper half of the zone. They'd lose their man, collapse low to recover - which gave the Islanders more space - then not cut off the cross-ice passes to the lower half of the zone. Add that to multitudes of neutral and defensive zone turnovers and you just have a bad night all the way around.
- So what, then will cure what ails this team's suddenly very, very leaky goals against average? There's not an easy answer. They desperately, desperately miss Stephane Robidas right about now. Perhaps the best place to start is the most counter-intuitive for a team built on quickness - slowing down. The Stars are making the most mistakes when they try to fly with transition plays and move the puck before they've collected it, when they just react to the other team's offense instead of read it. Hockey is a fast game, especially at the NHL level, but I think they're making it faster (and harder) than it needs to be.
- Lehtonen again wants some of those back, but he's always playing like he doesn't trust his defense. And frankly, I don't blame him at this point. It's a chicken-and-egg scenario that's working in the worst way.
- I've got no real quotes from people affiliated with the team to back this up, but I've noticed they seem to struggle when a team can match their speed. It's like when a team can match what the Stars usually use to their advantage, they don't have a great backup plan for what to do next or how to defend. That screams "young team" to me. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that the East, which places more of an emphasis on transition hockey and speed plays, has been tougher for the Stars than we might have hoped so far.
- All that said, some perspective here. This is the Stars first three-game losing streak of the season, and it was bound to happen at some point. They can't change what has happened, obviously, so now all they can do is try to address... whatever it is that they can at this point.
- It's a long season. The Stars aren't as good as they looked when they were on a seven-game point streak, and they aren't as bad as they look now. Two days off in an extremely busy stretch is as good a time as any to press the rest button.