DALLAS – After a rough ending to a challenging road trip, the Stars came back home with the hopes of righting some of what went wrong in consecutive losses to Pittsburgh and Detroit over the weekend. The visiting Florida Panthers spoiled the plans.
Despite being armed with the best home record in the league, the Stars didn’t have much ammunition against the high flying Panthers in a 6-0 loss on Tuesday night at American Airlines Center.
Florida jumped on the Stars early, and never let up on the gas pedal. They outshot Dallas by a 14-4 margin over the first 20 minutes to take an early 2-0 lead, then doubled the edge with another two-goal period while boasting a 23-10 shots through two periods.
The pesky Panthers consistently beat the Stars to any loose pucks, and when the Panthers got to them they moved the puck effectively and efficiently. And when they didn’t have it they didn’t allow the Stars to do much with it. In all, Dallas seemed in second gear, while Florida was cruising in fourth all night long.
“This is probably the most embarrassing game we’ve had at home in quite some time,” captain Brenden Morrow said. “Right now, when you look back, it’s probably been nine periods where we’ve been outworked. Some periods in there for five or 10 minutes where we’ve done some things well, but it’s pretty simple…just outworked these last few games.”
Kari Lehtonen felt the brunt of the Panthers sizzling skating wrath. Seeking his league-leading 12th win of the season, Lehtonen returned from a game off by being greeted with a barrage of pucks that zipped at and around him. He was able to turn aside most of them in the first period to keep things close, but his mates were unable to mount any consistent threat to close the gap on the scoreboard.
“I think the honeymoon’s over,” coach Glen Gulutzan said. “You start off 11-3, and teams are prepared to play you. They watch you probably a little closer, and Florida did a really good job of pre-scouting us. We got severely outworked. It’s a lesson learned and a hard pill to swallow. It’s a slap in the face, and a tough way to wake up. We weren’t prepared.”
Lehtonen finished with 24 saves, and the Stars lost their third straight after getting blanked for the second time this season.
“The first thing after a loss like this you self-evaluate yourself,” Gulutzan said. “If I had a rewind I probably would have taken Kari out after the second. We hung him out to dry twice tonight, our players did, and maybe we did leaving him in too long. He’s a battler, and he comes in mad at himself after second period, when we hung him out to dry. We let him down completely.”
Florida got goals from Dmitry Kulikov, Jason Garrison, Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg, and Evgeny Dadonov, while Scott Clemmensen finished with 25 saves for his seventh shutout of his career.
Weiss and Versteeg both added a pair of assists, and Fleischmann also contributed a helper for the Panthers, who won their fourth straight on the road.
Clemmensen was making his first start of the season because of a knee injury, and was able to withstand Dallas’ 15-shot attack in the third period. He preserved the shutout with a splendid save on Mike Ribeiro’s breakaway attempt when the slick center skated in alone from the top of the circles.
“We caught a team coming off the road, and I think that is a legitimate thing,” Panthers first-year coach Kevin Dineen said. “When teams come off the road, there’s something about it that makes it hard to come out. I think we smelled some opportunity.”
After the Panthers were able to kill off a penalty, Versteeg made it 5-0 with his ninth goal exactly midway through the third when his shot beat Lehtonen on a 2-on-1 break.
Dadonov capped the scoring with his second of the year 13:19 into the third when Marco Sturm’s pass went in off Dadonov’s right skate boot.
After a brief video review, it was ruled that Dadonov hadn’t kicked the puck in.
“Things have come pretty easy for us in this season, and (Lehtonen) has given us opportunities to win games,” Morrow said. “To come out and have a stinker like that, it’s pretty embarrassing. Within our structure it’s a real simple game, chipping pucks in and going north and south. When we put pucks in areas where it’s tough on the other team, we’ll have success. We did that a little bit in the third. But when we’re trying fancy plays and turning pucks over at the blue line, teams are stuffing it up our you know what.”
Up by a pair of goals after the first period, Fleischmann extended Florida’s edge to 3-0 with his seventh of the season with just under five minutes to go in the second. Off the rush, Fleischmann accepted Weiss’ pass just inside the blue line on the left wing before making a nifty move around defenseman Stephane Robidas at the top of the left circle. With a clear view of the net, the Panthers forward snapped a hard shot over Lehtonen’s glove.
“They did the little things right, and made us look really bad,” Robidas said. “We didn’t have anything. It’s plain and simple, we just got outworked.”
The Panthers broke it open with eight seconds left in the middle frame when Weiss converted a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play to give the Panthers a 4-0 lead heading into the third period. From the right faceoff dot, Fleischmann fed Versteeg in the slot, who in turn sent a touch pass to Weiss at the bottom of the right circle. Weiss quickly steered it in for his sixth of the season.
“They’ve got a simple system, and it’s effective,” Toby Petersen said. “It was a recognition in the first period that we had been outworked. Things started a little bit better in the second, but obviously they still got two goals.”
Florida struck first when Kulikov scored his first with 3:16 left in the opening frame. Skating into the slot, he snapped in Tomas Kopecky’s feed from along the right boards for a 1-0 Panthers lead.
Garrison made it 2-0 with his seventh just 84 seconds later. From the middle of the blue line, he launched a one-timer off a pass from Mike Santorelli from the left circle.
The Stars will play their lone road game in a six-game stretch on Friday when they travel to Denver to play the Colorado Avalanche (8 p.m., FS-SW). The Avs had lost three of four before dropping a 6-3 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday. Dallas will have a bit of an advantage, as Colorado will be playing at Minnesota on Thursday before heading back home to face the Stars.
“We have to be ready because Colorado’s a good team,” Robidas said. “They’re young and fast and will come at us hard. We can’t play a fancy game.”
-- Steve Ott missed his sixth game with a lower-body injury, while defenseman Alex Goligoski missed his second game because of a broken thumb. Goligoski was placed on injured reserve prior to the game, while Ott is hoping to return Friday in Colorado.