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Observations: Dallas Stars Leaders Accept Fault for Loss to Nashville Predators, But What Really Broke Down?

What can the Stars learn about responding to teams that scheme for their offense after a loss in Nashville?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The old adage instructs one to work smarter, not harder, when things are going poorly.

The Dallas Stars did neither in their 4-1 loss to the Nashville Predators on Saturday evening.

Things actually started fairly well, with the Stars puck possession game rolling, if not producing many shots, and the energy from the second and third lines seeming to be at the level they were in Thursday's shootout loss to the Blackhawks. But as things moved along and the Predators started to dominate more and more of the play, the flaws of the Stars were more and more exposed.

In conversation on Twitter about midway through the first, I remarked that the first line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Valeri Nichushkin was trying way too hard for the perfect goal. Sure, Benn rang one hard off the pipe and Seguin had a number of good opportunities, but there was definitely some overpassing going on, a flaw that trickled into the rest of the team as the night wore on.

The energy that was apparent early suddenly wasn't, as the Stars over-passing played right into the hands of the Predators hard forecheck and tight off-puck defense. The Stars were trying to win the game on the strength of their skill alone, and while that skill is as formidable as any forward group in the West, skill also has to be moderated by both good decision making and high work rate, something captain Jamie Benn said was missing this game.

"It was pretty much a full 60 minutes of them outworking us," Benn said "Like I said, we have no excuses in here. It starts from the top and I could have been the worst player out there tonight. I can take a lot of the blame for tonight’s game. When you don’t have anyone to follow there is really nowhere to go."

There are certainly signs that the Predators were the team that was working harder.

If there's no cliche that says the team that owns the boards owns the hockey game, there should be, because that's how it was on Saturday. There was no Benn blowing Brandon Saad off the puck, no Antoine Roussel getting the puck out of a scrum and to a teammate, or at the very least there wasn't enough of it.

But I'd contend that working smarter was where the Stars really fell apart in this one. The Predators made a number of smart tactical decisions that the Stars played right into the hands of. And if one team has figured out, say, that the Stars love that bump up the left wing side to break out of their own zone, you can bet others have noticed as well.

As the Predators took away what the Stars like to do - those breakout passes up the boards, the quick passing in neutral and just over the blue line, the looks for the back door - the Stars seemed to flounder with what they wanted to do next.

Instead of looking for another route to get to the same destination (in this case, shots and scoring chances) the Stars tried more exaggerated versions of their favorite things. The neutral zone passes got longer, the breakout chances tried to come quicker, the passing at the blueline became more frantic. But the variations on a theme didn't do anything good - they simply made the Stars more scattered and played right into the Predators schemes.

This team isn't built for dump-and-chase hockey. But if your quick neutral zone game isn't clicking like it should, if the other team is stacking four across the blue line to prevent it, then perhaps you need to mix some more designed dump plays in to take advantage of your speed that way.

Which is where you could argue the failure of the veterans really occurred (inasmuch as a single game in an 82 game season can indicate a veteran failure). Players like Benn, like Jason Spezza, like Alex Goligoski are the ones this team is looking to for signs on how they should play. When those guys are the ones looking too hard for the perfect play rather than merely a good one, or they're the ones not adjusting to what's been given, that's what guys like Cody Eakin and Roussel and Colton Sceviour imitate to the detriment of the whole team.

And when you're not working smart, when all the eggs have gone into some silly basket that's bound to fail, the net effect is that no matter how hard you work, it isn't going to be harder than the team that's planned better. Working, for the lack of a better term, stupid almost always leaves you outworked in the areas that matter.

That extended from the very top of the lineup as Benn and Seguin, although they probably produced the best chances in the first, were held pointless for the second consecutive game.

"I think our top guys have struggled and it’s probably hurt us more than anything and if they’re going well, we’re going to win and they’ve struggled," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "They’ve had a little bit of a tough preseason and I think we’re seeing a little bit of that still now."

It's easy to excuse at least Saturday's effort from Seguin, as he missed Friday's practice with an illness, but excuses are the last thing the Stars want right now.

And to be honest, this is a little bit of new territory for the Stars.

They weren't the team other teams anticipated and game-planned for to a large extreme last year (other than your typical pre-game work). They've never been potentially scary enough to deserve that since the year after they went to the Western Conference Finals. It's understandable then that there will be kinks as they learn the best ways to counteract how teams are trying to shut down their offense. Jamie Benn was part of the NHL's all-underrated club, not the best left wing in the NHL that people circled on their calendars.

The lesson from all that is to take this game for what it was. Because that was game 2. Not 62. Not 22. Not even 12. Just 2 in a season where everything is indeed a little bit different. It was no fun to sit through and there were plenty of warts exposed, and yes, at some point they might want those points back, but there' s nothing they can do about this game except learn from it, and there is also plenty of time to do that.

Look at it this way. The Los Angeles Kings got dumptrucked by the San Jose Sharks in the season opener, then lost 3-2 in overtime to the Coyotes while giving up more than 40 shots on Saturday. They have the same number of points as Dallas.

The real question for everyone involved in these situations is do they take the right lessons to heart, and we won't know that until we see how the Stars respond to the next team who tries to scheme their transition game out of existence.