DALLAS - If this was the dress rehearsal, the Dallas Stars have a lot of work to do before opening night.
In their final pre-season game against another NHL club, the Stars looked rather lackluster and were manhandled 5-0 by the St. Louis Blues at the American Airlines Center Saturday night.
While Blues goaltender Chris Mason was solid in making 29 saves for the shutout, the Stars did not put forth a very inspiring effort. Missing captain Brenden Morrow, who was kept out of his second straight game for precautionary reasons, the Stars seemed to lack fire in their game through most of it.
“We didn’t look good tonight and there is no excuse for it,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “You have nights where you aren’t going to be very good, I understand that. But our habits should never deteriorate the way we let them deteriorate tonight. We had people trapped on the forecheck, which is uncharacteristic of this group. I thought our shift length was terrible all night. Those are both signs that our team is not mentally sharp and we weren’t.”
Marty Turco played the whole night in goal, and while it’s safe to say his 14-save performance was not quite mid-season form yet, he could have used some more support in front of him.
With the regular season opener next Saturday night, October 3, at home against Nashville, the Stars have a week to iron things out before the games really mean something.
“It’s probably a good wake-up call for us,” defenseman Stephane Robidas said. “There’s a lot of stuff missing, obviously. And it’s really disappointing for us to come out flat like that. To lose a game like that - that’s not how we wanted to finish the pre-season, but hopefully it’s a good lesson for us that we need to work as a team if we want to win hockey games.”
As has become the norm in pre-season games, where players are trying to prove their toughness, another fight broke out, just 6:04 into the contest. This one came after St. Louis defenseman Roman Polak leveled Brian Sutherby along the boards, inducing Stars blueliner Mark Fistric to step in and challenge Polak to what was a rather one-sided affair.
That bout actually indirectly led to the Blues’ opening goal, because Fistric took an extra cross-checking penalty on the play, and then on the ensuing power play, Nicklas Grossman was whistled for high-sticking, and on that man-advantage, former Star Brad Winchester found the back of the net at 9:01.
The play was set up by Andy McDonald, who carried the puck into the left corner and slid a soft pass through Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas to a wide open Winchester, who was cutting across the top of the crease and tapped it between Turco’s pads for the 1-0 lead.
The Blues went up 2-0 on another power play tally at with 5:49 remaining in the opening period on Derek Armstrong’s third goal of the pre-season. With Krys Barch in the box for hooking, St. Louis’ David Backes fought off Robidas in front to slide a quick pass to Armstrong all alone at the left side of the crease, and Armstrong swiped it home past a diving Turco.
Those were the first two goals allowed by the Stars in the first period this pre-season.
Things hardly improved much in the second, as the Blues had doubled their lead before the period was half over. St. Louis went up 3-0 at 6:02 on an impressive effort from Erik Johnson. On the rush into the Dallas zone, Patrik Berglund fired a wrist shot from the left sideboards that Turco got a piece of. The puck was rolling wide of the far post, but Johnson slid in to poke it home just before he slammed into the goalpost and took the net with him into the end boards.
The Stars best scoring chance of the night to that point came about two minutes later, but Loui Eriksson’s one-timer from the slot, off a nice pass from James Neal, was denied by Mason.
St. Louis then went up by four at 9:04 of the second, on Alexander Steen’s goal. Jay McClement whipped a quick pass from the left sideboards past Dallas defenseman Matt Niskanen to Steen, who reached out with his stick and re-directed it through Turco’s pads and in.
Dallas began to pick up its level of play a bit after that, but did not have anything to show for it when Steve Ott riled things up a bit with 2:45 left in the period. After jostling a bit with Blues goalie Mason, Ott got into a shoving match with Mason and both St. Louis defensemen on the ice at the time. While he collected a 10-minute misconduct for his efforts, Ott also drew a Dallas power play because Mason was called for a two-minute roughing penalty.
Neal nearly scored on the man-advantage with 40 seconds to go, but his in-close one-timer, off a pass from Mike Modano behind the net, popped just over the crossbar.
Trailing 4-0 heading into the final period, the Stars began on a power play and nearly got one just 30 seconds in when Matt Niskanen boomed a one-timer from the left face-off circle that Mason got a piece of before the puck slowly rolled free and snuggled up against the goalpost. Moments later, Niskanen drilled another slap shot from the high slot, but Mason snagged that one with the glove.
The second fight of the night took place at 8:44 when Barch took on former Star B.J. Crombeen in a disappointing bout that was broken up by the officials before many punches were thrown.
Crombeen earned an extra penalty for boarding, and the Stars nearly snapped the shutout on the ensuing power play. Mike Ribeiro fed a sharp pass from the top of the left circle to rookie Jamie Benn off the left post, and Benn shoveled it on goal, but Mason came up with a nice pad save.
The Blues ended up with their third power play goal of the night when Backes made it 5-0 with 7:24 left in regulation, beating Turco with a quick wrist shot from the high slot.
Up to that point, the Stars had outshot St. Louis 10-1 in the third period, but would not get any closer to solving Mason.
The Stars will conclude the pre-season at the home of their new AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, which is based in the Austin suburb of Cedar Park. The Stars will practice in Cedar Park Monday through Wednesday before taking on their AHL squad in the “Bud Light Battle of the Stars” Wednesday night.
Then the games begin for real next Saturday, Oct. 3, in the regular season opener against the Nashville Predators at the American Airlines Center.
“Obviously, we would like to be in a better position coming out of the pre-season, we would like to have better result, but now, what can we do?” Robidas asked rhetorically. “We got seven days to re-group for opening night next week against Nashville. I think that’s where we got to put our focus this week. We got to execute the system - you can have all the skills in the world, but if you’re not willing to put the work in first, it’s not going to work.”
“It’s not the way we want to end our pre-season,” Crawford added. “On the positive side, we have four great practice days next week and we are going to utilize them real well to make sure we get ourselves totally prepared when it really does count.”
- Robidas led all players in ice time with 25:17.
- Center Brad Richards topped all Stars with five shots on goal, while Ott registered a team-best four hits.
- After giving up two goals in the second period, the Stars have now been outscored 12-3 in second periods during the pre-season.
- Defenseman Andrew Hutchinson cleared waivers and was assigned to AHL Texas. In three pre-season contests, Hutchinson picked up two penalty minutes and had a -2 plus/minus rating.