You know that firewagon hockey game that started the Dallas Stars now 4-game losing streak? The one where they raced up and down the ice with the Montreal Canadiens and eventually came up on the wrong end of a high-scoring, exciting hockey game?
Consider Thursday night's 1-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils the complete opposite.
The Stars finally managed to plug their leaky defense, allowing just the one goal to the usually offensively-quiet Devils, but they could not muster one of their own to match in a fairly plodding affair at the Prudential Center.
Former Stars forward Michael Ryder scored the only goal of the game after Dallas failed to clear the zone in the second period. After Valeri Nichushkin didn't clear the puck out after collecting it on the high boards, the Devils started one of their endless cycles in the offensive zone. This time, though, they were able to work it out front to Ryder, who had found the soft spot between the defensemen and the forwards.
The Stars had a chance to equalize in the second on a four-minute power play after Jamie Benn took a stick to the chin. And although there were several good chances on scrambles at the net, the Stars couldn't push one past Cory Schneider.
The third period was much of the same - the Stars actually had several good pushes but were unable to really get Jersey on the ropes. The Devils shot blocking and their positional play eventually got the better of the Stars offense.
It all culminated in the fourth consecutive loss for the Stars, who have yet to pick up a point in 2014.
More thoughts from my sofa
- I know there are a number of people out there going "How can you call it a better defensive effort when you give up 34 shots to the freaking Devils, one of the lowest shooting teams in the league?" And my answer to that is the types of shots and chances the Stars allowed were much less concerning, at least to me. Yes, there were about 3-4 times the Devils found a wide open forward in the low slot, which is too man, but the Devils built their play off of wall cycles rather than passes through the box. There was much less easy, cross-ice puck moment than the previous three games. The breakaways and odd-man rushes were also way down. Some of that is the Devils style, but some of that is also that the Stars were positionally a lot more solid. Given the issues the Stars have had there to start the new year, I think that's a big thing.
- This was not the most exciting hockey game I've ever watched. That's a credit to the Devils, who were able to take away essentially all of the Stars transition game. The Stars build so much off transition that when it's taken away from them, as the St. Louis Blues did just a few days ago, they struggle to get things going, and that's certainly what happened tonight.
- The mixed up lines lasted about a period and a half before Nichushkin and Rich Peverley switched places. Cody Eakin also spent some time with Alex Chiasson and Ray Whitney, but it was hard to tell if that was simply the luck of line switching or some actual adjustments.
- Speaking of Chiasson, he's really not been himself as of late. Losing so much weight while dealing with strep throat is certainly enough to knock any player off his game, but his quickness and his anticipation doesn't seem to be there either. Beyond the goal scoring, which has a good element of luck involved, he's not creating many scoring chances outside of things that go through the screens he sets.
- Tyler Seguin also doesn't seem quite like himself recently, which to me is most noticeable in speed and his ability to go around guys in tight spaces. We know he missed a practice about a week ago with the flu, but he's also been making the media rounds recently so I would doubt he's still sick. Perhaps the bug that ran through everyone really has done a number on them.
- The rotation among the forwards and the drop back when a defenseman jumped up was much improved tonight. That will help players like Alex Goligoski and Kevin Connauton who want to join the attack as well as the defensive effort overall.
- On the down side, the power play, even though it created some decent scrambles, was a bit of a buzz kill. And the inability to get the puck away from the Devils forecheck with 90 seconds left was pretty maddening.
- The Stars seem to struggle against two types of teams this year. We talked about their issues with speedy teams after a recent loss, and tonight showcased the other side - teams with really stifling neutral zone defenses. There's only a couple teams that really rely on that style of play right now, including the Devils and the St. Louis Blues. The Stars offense really struggles to get going against them.
- This was a two steps forward, two steps back sort of night. They got a lot of the defensive issues cleared up but some old demons continued to haunt them. They have about 24 hours to turn it around if they want to take any points out of this road trip.