Last weekend, the Dallas Stars returned home from a two-game jaunt to Florida feeling very good about themselves and sporting an impressive 5-1-0 record.
Now, after running into another hot goaltender, Jonathan Quick, who made 30 saves to lead the Los Angeles Kings to a 5-2 victory over the Stars Thursday night at the American Airlines Center, things are much different.
The defeat was the Stars’ third straight, all at home, leaving them a modest 5-4-0. Their season-long six-game homestand initially was viewed an opportunity for Dallas to put some distance between themselves and other teams in their division. Instead, they’ve now lost two consecutive Pacific Division contests by a combined 10-4 margin.
The Stars also boasted a high-octane offense that scored 22 goals through their first six games, but has managed just four - on 99 shots on goal - over the last three. Again in this one, they seemed to have the territorial edge and outshot LA 32-24, but still ended up on the wrong end of the result.
“They’ve been similar games,” acknowledged goaltender Kari Lehtonen, comparing this one to the Stars’ 5-2 loss to Anaheim on Tuesday in which Dallas outshot the Ducks 37-26. “It’s easy to go, ‘Oh, we played well and deserved to win,’ but the big thing is we ended up losing both games. We just have to work harder and figure this stuff out.”
“An opportunity has slipped by us here,” defenseman Matt Niskanen admitted, regarding the homestand. “The last three games, we’ve liked the way we’ve played, but we’re not doing enough good things to get wins. It’s frustrating, we’re getting good chances, and goalies on other teams are making good saves, but that’s not an excuse for us. We’ve got to find ways to get points and we’ve got to get this turned around right away.”
It was a crucial stretch in the second period that really did in the Stars. With the game tied 1-1, the Kings scored two goals within nine seconds, with the second one initially waved off but overturned to a goal after a video review, to put LA in control.
Coach Marc Crawford was not happy and did not buy the ‘we played well but lost’ angle.
“To be quite truthful, what I don’t like is we beat ourselves these last two games,” Crawford said. “I thought we learned the lesson the last game and we didn’t, so we have to smarten up. We have to learn the lesson that this is a league where you cannot take even a shift off. If we think we’re so good that we can outskill teams and we can beat teams with pure skill, we’re sadly mistaken. Yeah, you know what? We had another good performance tonight, but that rings hollow and those kind of comments, as we told the team, that’s not what we’re about. We have to be better than we were.”
Lehtonen made his ninth consecutive start in goal, and surrendered four goals on 15 shots before he was pulled early in the third period in favor of backup Andrew Raycroft. In his first appearance of the year, Raycroft stopped all eight shots he faced in 15:14 of action.
“It wasn’t great, I gave up too many goals and there wasn’t really that many shots,” Lehtonen said of his performance. “We just need to keep working on things and keep going forward.”
Tied 1-1 heading into the second period, the Stars nearly went on top during an early power play. Quick made a nice sliding save on Jamie Benn’s one-timer from low in the right face-off circle at 1:56, then stopped Richards’ one-timer from the right circle at 3:33 to keep the Stars off the scoreboard.
Quick came up with a spectacular save at 6:49 to keep the game tied. As captain Brenden Morrow carried on the rush into the right face-off circle, he fed a quick cross-ice pass to Mike Ribeiro in the left circle, and somehow Quick managed to slide across and stop Ribeiro’s one-timer with the blocker.
Lehtonen matched Quick at the other end with a nice stop of his own at 7:13, when he swallowed up a slick deflection in front by Michal Handzus, which was actually the first shot of the period for LA.
The Kings went up 2-1 with 6:55 left in the period on Alexei Ponikarovsky’s second goal of the year. Following a giveaway by Morrow, LA’s Wayne Simmonds carried the puck into the left corner before backhanding a shot on net that Lehtonen stopped, but the rebound spit out front, where Ponikarovsky slammed it home.
“We were well in control, and when we’re in control, you don’t give up odd-man rushes,” Crawford said. “You don’t over-extend a shift, going over 60 seconds into the shift and go for another offensive opportunity. That’s how you get beat.”
Just nine seconds later, LA extended their lead to two when almost immediately after the ensuing face-off, Jack Johnson’s pass sprung Simmonds on a breakaway. As he came in on Lehtonen, Simmonds tried a deke to the backhand that Lehtonen saved with his pad, but Simmonds’ forward motion took him right into Lehtonen, jarring the puck over the line as he also knocked the net off its moorings. The play was originally called ‘no goal’ on the ice, but a video review overturned the decision.
“He made a nice move and I thought I had it in my pad, but as he slid into me and put me and the puck and himself in the net,” Lehtonen said. “It’s one of those plays that probably I would be mad if we would have done the same thing and they not allowed it. But when they do it and they allow it, it (ticks) me off. I felt like I made the initial save and I got pushed in the net with the puck. It’s one of those things it can go either way. It’s hard to judge.”
That play seemed to stagnate the Stars’ game and it was clear they sagged a bit after that.
“It takes a little wind out of your sails, but that’s something that we have to learn to deal with,” Niskanen said of the Kings’ third goal. “We have to push harder on the next shift. Whether that’s a goal or not, we just got scored on, so that next shift is a big one, regardless, so those are things we got to learn real fast now, how to rebound from that. We’ve done pretty well at that at some times this year and other times, we’ve let it affect us.”
At the other end, Quick continued to stymie the Stars, as he made a sparkling save on Benn’s one-timer of a rebound chance in front with 4:03 remaining.
So despite outshooting the Kings 14-6 in the second, Dallas was outscored 2-0 and found themselves down 3-1 entering the final period.
With an early power play that carried over from the end of the second, the Stars had one good chance at the 30-second mark when Loui Eriksson fired an uncontested wrist shot from low in the right circle, but Quick came up with a nice shoulder save.
The Stars had another prime opportunity at 4:24 when Mark Fistric found himself alone in the slot and fired a point-blank wrist shot that Quick snagged with his glove.
Just 16 seconds later, with the Stars on a power play, the Kings went ahead 4-1 on a fluky goal by defenseman Willie Mitchell. After outbattling rookie defenseman Philip Larsen for the puck along the boards in the LA zone, Mitchell chipped it up ice and carried into the Dallas right circle before attempting a cross-ice pass that pinballed off Larsen’s skate in front and found its way past Lehtonen.
“That’s the thing you really don’t want to happen when you get called up,” said Larsen, who was brought up from the AHL Texas Stars on Wednesday to play his third career NHL game. “I tried to move my foot. Of course, it’s not a great thing, but I can’t do anything about it. I’m sorry it happened, that was a pretty important moment in the game. It’s tough.”
At that point, Crawford opted to yank Lehtonen and insert Raycroft for the first time this season.
Still on the power play about 30 seconds later, the Stars nearly got that one right back when Steve Ott split the defense and sped in on a breakaway. He tried to slip a backhander through the five-hole, but Quick made the save.
Dallas cut their deficit back to two with 9:50 left in regulation on Segal’s first goal of the season. After picking up the puck behind the LA net, Segal curled out of the left corner and fired a high wrist shot from a sharp angle that sailed over Quick’s head and just under the crossbar.
One of the most unique moments you’ll ever see took place with 3:29 left, when Richards drilled a slap shot from the neutral zone that actually went through the glass behind the net, leaving a small hole. Credit the repair crew for a quick replacement job.
Unfortunately, the Stars weren’t able to fix the hole they’d dug for themselves in this one, because just after Raycroft came to the bench for an extra attacker, Justin Williams sent the puck from center ice into the empty net to put it away.
The Stars hope to turn things around as the homestand continues on Saturday, with the Buffalo Sabres come to town (7 pm start, TXA-21). The Sabres have had their own struggles early this season, as they sit 3-6-1.
“Teams that end up being playoff teams, which we’re going to be, they don’t beat themselves and we beat ourselves tonight,” Crawford said. “It’s disappointing, because we did it last game and we thought we learned the lesson. But we didn’t. Tonight we have to learn the lesson. On the positive side, it’s a good thing that it’s happening right now, because we’ve got a whole season ahead of us to fix it, but our guys have to get it through their thick skulls that they are not an overly super-skilled team. We’re a very good team that if we don’t outwork the other team, we don’t give ourselves the best opportunity to win.”
- Richards’ goal was his third of the year. He led the Stars in both ice time (24:33) and shots on goal with six.
- Even though Benn had several golden scoring chances, firing four shots on goal, he ended up with a -3 plus/minus rating, as did linemate Ott. Ott dished out six hits, tied with Niskanen for the game-high.
- Larsen, who played two NHL games for the Stars at the end of last season, earned an assist for his second career point. In 19:03 of ice time, he fired three shots on goal, blocked two shots and was -2. He was in the lineup due to Stephane Robidas’ automatic one-game suspension, which was assessed after Robi was called for his second boarding major penalty in a 41-game span on Tuesday.
- For the second straight contest, defenseman Jeff Woywitka and winger Krys Barch sat out as healthy scratches.
- LA won all three games in Dallas last year, so they now have a four-game winning streak here by a combined score of 16-5.
- With Game 2 of the World Series taking place at the same time, the Stars drew a crowd of 11,306, which is believed to be the lowest ever in Dallas. To accommodate those Texas Rangers fans who did attend, there were game highlights and score updates on the center-hung video board and half of the TVs on the concourse were tuned in to the baseball game.