Oilers 4, Stars 1
With their top forward added to the growing list of unavailables, the injury-depleted Stars were unable to stop a disturbing slide against a team they've enjoyed plenty of success against.
Playing without leading scorer Brad Richards
as well as four other regulars, the slumping Stars were done in by the energized Edmonton Oilers in a 4-1 loss at Rexall Place on Tuesday night.
Richards (upper body) and defenseman Nicklas Grossman
(lower body) both missed the game after being hurt in Sunday's loss to Columbus, and the duo joined the already-sidelined threesome of Jamie Benn
(shoulder), Adam Burish
(face), and Krystofer Barch
The mounting injuries have come at a pivotal point of the season for the Stars (31-20-6). After charging to the top of the Pacific Division, a two-win in 10-game stretch has knocked them out of the lead, and left them searching for answers on how to get back to what made them flourish after Thanksgiving.
"With the exception of our goalie, there wasn't a whole lot of desperation," captain Brenden Morrow
said. "They were the hungrier team. We're a little shorthanded right now, and we're talking about focusing on the guys we have and not on the guys that we don't. In most cases it's us veteran guys that are making the mistakes. We need to be better to get ourselves out of this."
The Stars did get center Toby Petersen
back after he returned from a 16-game absence because of a leg injury. But rather than moving him or another center into Richards' spot between wingers James Neal
and Loui Eriksson
, coach Marc Crawford slotted Eriksson alongside Mike Ribeiro
and Morrow, while Neal played with newly-signed center Jason Williams
and rookie Tomas Vincour
Eriksson scored the lone goal, while Kari Lehtonen
finished with 26 saves for Dallas, which dropped to 2-7-1 following a 7-0-1 spurt that helped them build a nearly double-digit division lead.
"Every point's an important one," Morrow said. "We're letting things slip away."
Following Tuesday's defeat -- just the fifth time the Stars have lost in regulation in the last 25 meetings against Edmonton -- Dallas remained in second place in the division, one point behind idle Phoenix with one game in hand. The problem is Anaheim and San Jose are both tied with Dallas with 68 points, although the Sharks have played in one more game than both the Stars and Ducks.
"It's frustrating. I don't think we've played at the level that we can," Lehtonen said. "It's easy to go behind that we have guys hurt, but we have a lot better team than we've shown the last couple games. It's an important part of the season, and we want to get wins. It's just frustrating not to get them like we've been used to."
As the Stars struggled to find a rhythm, the Oilers looked nothing like the worst team in the NHL, especially in the second period when they began to seize control of the contest. Having lost seven of their last eight overall coming in, the Oilers snapped their five-game losing streak to the Stars by generating quality first and second-chance scoring opportunities.
Edmonton was quicker to the puck, but more damaging to the Stars was the Oilers ability to resurrect a dreadful power play by scoring twice with the man advantage. Edmonton entered with the worst power-play unit in the league, and had converted just three of 82 opportunities over the last 23 games.
"We were giving them a little too much respect, and a lot of room out there," Petersen said about Edmonton's power play that went 2 of 6. "It cost us."
"They worked harder than us to tilt the ice in their favor," Morrow added. "We need to do a little bit more of that."
Shawn Horcoff had a goal and two assists, Ales Hemsky and Taylor Chorney both had a goal and assist, and Jordan Eberle also scored for the Oilers, who sent the Stars to their fifth straight road loss. Nikolai Khabibulin made 24 saves to stop a personal 14-game losing streak.
"If our penalty kill works as hard as it needs to, I think that's where the difference is going to be," Crawford said. "You don't kill penalties in this league unless you have a superlative effort, and that's where we can pick things up. Give the Oilers credit, they had a very direct attack on their power play."
With the Stars two goals behind after two periods, Hemsky made it 4-1 just 28 seconds into the third when he got behind the Dallas defense at the blue line before deking Lehtonen.
Up by a goal after 20 minutes, the Oilers pushed their edge to 2-0 on the power play with 12:20 left in the second on Chorney's first career NHL goal. From the right circle he one-timed Horcoff's cross-ice pass past Lehtonen.
Eriksson answered back with his 19th of the season on the power play with 3:29 left in the middle frame. From the Dallas blue line Williams hit Eriksson with a pass at the Edmonton blue line, and Eriksson subsequently split the Oilers defense to go in alone on Khabibulin. The Swede then pulled the puck to his backhand before lifting it in to make it 2-1.
But the Oilers responded with their second power-play goal of the game less than two minutes later when Horcoff tapped-in his eighth of the year from the slot to push the lead to 3-1.
The Oilers struck first with just 1:58 left in the first period when Eberle scored his 12th of the season just after Trevor Daley
's hooking penalty expired. Down low, Sam Gagner made a nifty toe-drag to get around a sliding Stephane Robidas
before feeding the puck to Eberle, who one-timed a shot in from the lower-left circle.
The Stars resume their three-game western Canada road trip on Wednesday at Calgary (8:30 p.m., FS-SW+). The Flames handed the Colorado Avalanche a 9-1 thumping on Monday night.
Dallas will conclude the jaunt on Saturday against Vancouver (9 p.m., TXA-21). The game will be broadcast nationally north of the border as the second game of Hockey Night in Canada's doubleheader.
"We've got to concentrate on one thing, and that's making sure we work as hard as we possibly can," Crawford said. "To me, that is the only thing that we need to focus on."
-- Defensemen Matt Niskanen
replaced Grossman in the lineup, while defenseman Trevor Ludwig
, who was recalled from Texas of the AHL earlier in the day, was a healthy scratch.
-- Still sidelined with an injury is Raymond Sawada
-- The Stars have been outscored 27-10 during their five-game road skid.
-- For the second time, the Stars were denied their 700th victory since moving to Dallas to start the 1993-94 season.
-- The Stars lost for the first time in regulation in the last nine meetings in Edmonton (6-1-2).
-- Lehtonen picked up an assist on Eriksson's goal. He now has five helpers this season, tying a franchise mark for most assist by a goalie set by Ed Belfour and Marty Turco.
|Three star selections