SAN JOSE – The Stars have had plenty of issues with the second game of back-to-back contests this season. Those problems continued in ugly fashion against the hard-charging San Jose Sharks.
A day after posting an impressive four-goal win over the Anaheim Ducks, the Stars lost their fifth straight to the Sharks, 5-2, on Thursday night at HP Pavilion, and in the process dropped to 0-8-1 in the second half of consecutive-game sets this season.
The loss snapped the Stars’ two-game winning streak, and caused them to fall three points behind the Minnesota Wild for the eighth and final playoff slot in the Western Conference.
“They played a really good game from start to finish,” coach Glen Gulutzan said. “They were at the top of their game. We didn’t sustain any sort of attack to warrant us getting back in the game. It’s one of those things you have to be better prepared. We didn’t win any battles, starting from the faceoff circle to the corner. We were just chasing it and a step behind.”
The Stars (26-22-2) actually came out with some spunk against the Pacific Division-leaders, and took three of the game’s first four shots. But the Sharks eventually took control by taking 14 of the next 18 shots, and scored twice to take a two-goal edge into the first intermission.
After Steve Ott made it 2-1 nearly 13 minutes into the second period, the Sharks resoundingly rebounded by netting another two goals over the final five minutes of the second to help put the game away.
“There were a lot of frustrating things,” Ott said. “We didn’t get the result we wanted, which was obviously the No. 1 most frustrating thing. But collectively there were a lot of little breakdowns. We made some costly mistakes as well that hurt our chances of being in the game.”
Richard Bachman, who was making just his fifth appearance in the past 16 games, was under siege all night. He wound up finishing with 32 saves, and kept the score close with several scintillating stops.
“He made some huge saves,” Gulutzan said. “I thought the first period could have been 5-0.”
Jamie Benn also scored, and Ott picked up an assist for his second straight two-point game.
“We’re at our best when we stay disciplined and play the system, defend well, and get on the forecheck, but we didn’t have much going tonight,” defenseman Stephane Robidas said.
Benn made it 4-2 with his 15th of the year 6:22 into the third, shoveling in a rebound after Sharks goalie Thomas Greiss was unable to corral Ott’s original shot.
The goal seemed to reinvigorate the Stars, and they gave the Sharks some push as the final frame wore on. But Ryane Clowe dashed the comeback hopes when he rammed home a rebound to make it 5-2 with 8:26 remaining in regulation.
“We found a way to kind of make a game of it, but they put a lot at the net and all in all outplayed us,” Ott said. “They’re a great hockey club and well built, but that gives us no excuse to not be competitive against them. They have a lot of skill, and we have a lot of work ethic. We have to find a way to match up.”
Dallas’ problems weren’t limited to any one thing. The Stars weren’t able to sustain any type of consistent forecheck, lost an amazing 12 of 52 faceoffs, turned over way too many pucks when they did eventually get possession, and surrendered a couple of power-play goals.
In all, it was a performance that quickly needs to be forgotten, as the Stars fell to 1-1-0 during a pivotal month of February in which they play 16 games.
“Right now, ultimately we have to win hockey games and we can’t make excuses,” Bachman said. “We have to show up and play, and compete more.”
The Sharks came in having registered consecutive shutouts thanks to goalie Antti Niemi. But Niemi was scratched after sustaining a minor injury in practice on Wednesday, paving the way for backup Greiss to get the starting nod. Despite the change in the crease, the Sharks didn’t miss a beat.
Greiss finished with 19 saves, while Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, and Joe Pavelski each had a goal and assist. Michal Handzus also scored, and Brent Burns contributed three assists for the Sharks (29-14-6), who’ve won 10 of their last 15 games.
Down by a pair, Ott was credited with a power-play goal with 7:19 left in the second period to close the gap to 2-1. While attempting to split San Jose defensemen Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic just inside the Sharks’ blue line, Ott tipped the puck up slightly to try and go in on Greiss. Boyle wound up whacking the puck straight ahead, and it generated enough speed to get past Greiss and into the Sharks’ net.
The goal snapped San Jose’s shutout string at 190 minutes, 51 seconds.
The Sharks countered and regained their two-goal edge with a power-play goal themselves with 5:01 to go in the second when Marleau redirected Burns’ feed from the right boards for his 19th goal of the year.
Thornton then made it 4-1 less than two minutes later with his 11th of the season. Nicklas Grossman’s outlet pass from behind his goal line was picked off by Pavelski near the Stars blue line, and Pavelski found a wide-open Thornton in the low slot. Thornton easily tucked the puck in, as Bachman came way out of the net to challenge Pavelski.
Not surprisingly, the Sharks held a 28-11 shot advantage through 40 minutes.
Handzus staked the Sharks to an early 1-0 lead with his fifth of the season 4:42 into the game. From the right point, Burns’ wrist shot glanced off Handzus, who was standing near the top of the right circle. With the puck changing trajectory, Bachman wasn’t able to recover and it fluttered past him.
The Sharks nearly doubled their lead with eight minutes to go in the first when Pavelski went in alone on a breakaway. Bachman, though, was able to deny Pavelski’s deke attempt, and then spit out Pavelski’s rebound try as well to keep the deficit to a goal.
But with 3:28 to go in the opening frame, Pavelski and the Sharks cashed in on the power play to go up 2-0. From the right point. Pavelski’s shot deflected off Vernon Fiddler for his 19th of the season.
“We took a lot of penalties, and that’s a team that thrives on that,” Robidas said. “They’re talented and have a lot of guys that want to get on the power play. When you give them that many power plays (five), eventually they’re going to capitalize.”
The Stars return to Dallas for a short two-game homestand starting on Saturday with a key game against the Wild (7 p.m., TXA-21) at American Airlines Center. Minnesota slipped past Colorado 1-0 on Thursday to earn its third win in the last four games.
The Stars will also honor and recognize former goalie Ed Belfour on Saturday. Belfour, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in November, anchored Dallas’ magnificent run during the late ‘90s that culminated in the franchise’s only Stanley Cup championship in 1999 and another Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2000.