The Stars went holiday shopping in Philadelphia and Chicago, seeking to pick up some points and improve their position in the Central Division and Western Conference standings.
But all they had to show for workmanlike outings on consecutive days were ugly lumps of coal. Despite playing competitively, Dallas emerged with a pair of tough losses and no additional points. They dropped a 4-2 verdict in Philadelphia despite leading 2-1 with less than four minutes remaining on Saturday, and on Sunday, Dec. 11 they lost 3-1 at Central Division rival Chicago.
The Stars’ 28 points (11-13-6) keeps them above the Western Division cellar (Colorado and Arizona), just two away from a wild card spot (Los Angeles), and seven behind conference co-leaders Edmonton and Anaheim.
“When you don’t score goals, every mistake becomes costly,” center Jason Spezza said after Dallas lost for the seventh time in their last eight road contests. “We are not scoring enough obviously, and we are letting too many in. We are trying to get out of this funk and are working at it. It’s frustrating.
“(There are) no moral victories, there’s no ‘We played good in Detroit or Pittsburgh or Philly,'” Spezza added. “It’s not good enough. It’s not good enough with the type of team we have. It doesn’t matter if you play well if you don’t win games. It’s a results-oriented business, and these losses get tougher and tougher because we know we have a hole to climb out of.”
Despite their apparent firepower on the front line, no one in a Dallas uniform not named Devin Shore lit the lamp the entire weekend. Shore, a rookie who was drafted on the 2nd round of the 2012 draft with the 61st pick, netted his team’s only goal Sunday early in the second period to give Dallas a 1-0 lead. Shore, a former University of Maine forward, has five goals and 13 points in 30 games for the Stars.
Just :52 later, however, goalie Kari Lehtonen – making his fifth straight start — allowed what can honestly be termed a “soft” goal. He failed to stop a Marian Hossa blast from beyond the top of the left faceoff circle that agonizingly trickled through him and rolled into the net.
Chicago’s Artem Anisimov gave his team the lead for good at 2-1 midway through the second stanza when he converted a rebound, and Artemi Panarin whipped a one-timer off a power play pass from defenseman Duncan Keith past Lehtonen midway through the third for an insurance marker. Dallas has allowed an NHL-worst 20 power play goals on the road this season. Lehtonen finished with 24 saves and saw his record fall to 6-10-0.
“It’s just a matter of making bad mistakes at the wrong times,” coach Lindy Ruff said after Dallas dropped to 4-9-4 on the road this season. “I thought we played a pretty smart first period. We got the goal we wanted. We could never quite tip the momentum in our favor. We had spurts throughout the game, and they had spurts too. They took advantage of one of our big mistakes, and that was probably the difference in the game.”
Dallas headed home after the game, where they will play eight of their next nine games through early-January. “This will be the season for us, I really feel,” said Ruff, whose team was buoyed by the return of defenseman Johnny Oduya and forward Hiri Hudler in Chicago. “We’ve played pretty well at home, and we’ve got to build some momentum. I think all the season is going to land on this homestand.
“I think our guys feel a lot of pressure,” Ruff added. “We got out of a lot of games last year where (we were) winning 5-3 and mistakes weren’t killing us. Last year, we could wash some of the big mistakes under the carpet. This year, the big mistakes are standing out.”
The Stars were without defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, who was suspended for two games for an illegal check to the head of Flyers forward Chris VandeVelde in the third period of Saturday’s game in Philadelphia. Oleksiak will also miss Tuesday’s home game against Anaheim and will return for Thursday’s match against the visiting New York Rangers.
Dallas played a solid game on the road against the Flyers on Saturday, Dec. 10 as Shore scored in the first and third periods. His second marker gave Dallas a 2-1 lead with 9:28 remaining.
But Philly forward Brayden Schenn scored twice on the power play in a span of just 93 seconds in and Jakub Voracek added an empty netter during a nightmarish final 3:48 of the third session to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Schenn’s game-tying goal occurred less than a minute after Stars’ forward Radek Faksa hit the post on a shorthanded blast. Despite taking the loss, Lehtonen played well, making 18 saves.
Philadelphia, which entered the game with the league’s second-ranked power play, finished with three power play goals by Schenn in six opportunities to win its eight straight outing.
“We knew we had to stay out of the penalty box and when we took that last one we put ourselves in a bad place,” said Ruff, whose team allowed only 15 shots during five-on-five play. “We talked about it before the game, and if you are going to be careless, it is going to cost you.”
“Obviously, their three power-play goals were the difference,” said Shore after the Stars fell to 1-7-3 in games following a win this season. “It’s unfortunate because it was something we talked about before the game and our scouting report was right, but you can take positives from the 5-on-5 and learn from your mistakes. They did a good job on their power play, and that was the difference.”
Dallas, which has won consecutive games just once this campaign, was coming off an impressive 5-2 victory over Central Division rival Nashville on Thursday, December 8 at the AAC. Jamie Benn and Spezza each contributed a goal and two assists while Tyler Seguin added a goal and a helper to combined for eight points to celebrate their status as a high-scoring line.
“It’s been no secret around here that our top players haven’t been our top players — that’s something we take personally,” said team captain Benn after scoring 200th career goal, but only his second five-on-five marker of the campaign. “We need to be better. It was nice to get this one but it was only one and we need to continue this.”
“We’ve shown good chemistry in the past, and when we play together we know we have to be good,” said Spezza, who ended a 12-game goalless drought. “It was good to have an impact as a line. We need to get things going in the right way, and the three of us have to be good to do that. Obviously, our last game (a 2-1 loss to visiting Calgary on Dec. 6) was not Dallas Stars hockey, and then you get put through a tough practice, you come out with a much better effort tonight. We’re all satisfied with tonight, but we have to learn how to be more consistent.”
“It was a lot more fun tonight. We were doing the right things, and we were getting rewarded,” Seguin said. “Everyone played a great game, it was a full 60 minutes. We’ve got to find some consistency. We’ve been up and down, and we’ve got to win a couple in a row.”