DALLAS – With points at a premium a week before the All-Star break, the Stars offense has gone stale at an inopportune time.
Looking to snap an offensive funk, the Stars’ goal-scoring famine continued in a 2-1 loss to the Eastern Conference Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night at American Airlines Center. The loss was particularly stinging since it came against a team that entered Friday with the worst goals-against average in the league, in 14th place in the East, and riding a six-game winless streak on the road.
“The frustrating part was really the first 30 minutes of getting outworked,” an irritated coach Glen Gulutzan said. “I’ve got no problem if you go to a shootout or you play hard and you just don’t get the result, but when you only play 30 minutes…some team comes into your building on a Friday night and outplays you for 30 minutes, I got a real big problem with that. You have to make them aware that they are not good enough, with or without Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro in the lineup, to not be a hard-working team. That’s the message…they’re just not good enough.”
Without Benn and Ribeiro once again, pucks hitting the back of the net were at a premium for a Stars club that remains in 10th place in the West with 50 points, two behind eighth-place Colorado. During their current 0-3-1 skid that has prevented them from leapfrogging above the playoff cutoff line, the Stars have mustered just four goals while allowing a mere eight.
“It’s just not good enough,” Stephane Robidas said. “We need points desperately, and we only got one point the last two games. This was our chance to try and redeem ourselves and get two points. We need to keep it simple. With new guys in the lineup you have to outwork a team. You can’t take a night off.”
Tom Wandell scored, and Kari Lehtonen finished with 20 saves for Dallas (24-20-2), which plays two more times before next week’s break.
Wandell’s goal typified the Stars’ scoring slide. Skating hard to the slot on a rush with Loui Eriksson, Wandell notched his third of the season by not even touching the puck with his stick. Eriksson’s feed from the right circle went off Wandell’s right skate, and when Lightning goalie Mathieu Garon blocked it with his pad, the puck ricocheted off Wandell’s right skate a second time before eventually bouncing in.
The goal tied the game at 1-1 just 1:22 into the third, but the Lighting were able to regain their edge when Teddy Purcell scored his second goal of the game 2:14 later.
Down the right wing with the puck alongside Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, Purcell sent a pass to St. Louis in the high slot, but the puck was partially blocked and batted back to Purcell. Purcell then cut towards the front of the net and put a move on Lehtonen before slipping the puck in.
From there, the Stars tried grinding their way to the equalizer, but they just couldn’t get that final finish on their plays toward the net. After being outshot by a 13-5 margin after one period, the Stars peppered Garon with 23 shots over the final 40 minutes, but could only solve him the one time.
“We’re not going to score five goals a night,” Robidas said. “We have to keep their scoring chances down and try to get on the forecheck in the other team’s zone. That’s what we didn’t do enough of.”
“We got behind, and we have to stop doing that,” Alex Goligoski said. “We’re playing a defensive system, and we have to start getting leads. They got to their game before we did. We sat back a little and kind of saw how the game was going to go. It was not enough.”
Garon finished with 27 saves for Tampa Bay (19-23-4), which came in having been outscored by a 27-11 margin over its last six away from home. After a dismal 0-6-1 stretch overall, the Lightning have now won two straight.
“We came out, and I don’t think we were ready,” Wandell said about the sluggish start. “I don’t know what it is, but something mentally didn’t really work today for us. We came out stronger in the second, but we got help (Lehtonen) out more.”
Lehtonen was solid for his second straight start. After making 31 saves in a 1-0 loss to St. Louis on Monday, he was spectacular in the opening stanza to keep the Stars in it. He denied the league’s leading goal scorer, Steven Stamkos, four times in the period, including a scintillating save while Tampa Bay was on the power play with just under 7 minutes to go. Sliding to his right, Lehtonen robbed Stamkos’ wicked one-timer from the lower left circle, leaving the beleaguered Stamkos to look to the sky and shake his head in disbelief.
But the lack of penetration at the other end of the rink ultimately led to the Stars’ demise.
“We have to work 60 minutes every night with everyone in our lineup if we want to play in the playoffs,” Gulutzan said. “If we don’t, we won’t play. That needs to be learned. We weren’t prepared.”
Tampa Bay struck first when Purcell scored with just 72 seconds left in the first period. Standing wide open in front, he took St. Louis’ pass from the right corner and made a little delayed deke move before sliding the puck past Lehtonen. It was Purcell’s sixth shot of the frame, and Tampa Bay’s 13th.
The Stars head to Minnesota to take on the Wild on Saturday night (8 p.m., TXA-21). The Wild, who are right above the Stars in the West in ninth place with 51 points, are 0-3-1 in their last four after a 4-1 loss at Toronto on Thursday. The Stars went 3-1-0 against the Wild last season.
“There better be work ethic,” Gulutzan said. “Minnesota will be ready for us, they’ll be ready to work. We’ll go with eight guys if we have to work. We need more. It’s a sign of weakness if you can’t bring a little fear and adrenaline in your game every night.”
-- Benn (appendectomy), Adam Pardy, and Philip Larsen were the scratches, while Ribeiro (lower body) remains on injured reserve. Larsen was activated off IR on Thursday after missing eight games because of an upper-body injury.
-- Garon was shaken up after Stamkos ran into him while backchecking with 15 minutes to go in the second. Garon was holding his right arm/shoulder after it was driven back by Stamkos, and needed a couple of minutes to recover before being able to continue.
-- Eric Nystrom and Tampa Bay’s Pierre-Cedric Labrie engaged in a late second-period scrap.
-- The Stars have not won a home game in regulation against the Lightning since November 2000.
-- Dallas went 0 for 4 on the power play, and is just 4 for 45 with the man advantage over the past 14 games.
-- The Stars fell to 13-9-2 at American Airlines Center.
Martin St. Louis
1 - 0 TBL
1 - 1 Tie
Martin St. Louis
2 - 1 TBL