1. Mistakes prove costly
The Stars had their chances in Saturday's game, but once again finishing was an issue. For the fourth time in five games during the homestand, the Stars scored two goals or fewer. Mistakes proved costly at the other end of the ice. A turnover led to one Pittsburgh goal and the Penguins broke a 2-2 tie in the third period with a shorthanded tally.
"It seems like we had really costly mistakes, whether it was game management, puck management, and game awareness," said Stars coach Jim Montgomery. "To give up a shorthanded goal when it's 2-2 in the third period, the urgency to recognize danger just wasn't there."
The Stars gave up the first goal in all five games during the homestand. They had a couple of good chances to take the early lead, but Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray turned away quality looks by Joel L'Esperance and Roope Hintz. The Penguins got the first goal of Saturday's game by taking advantage of the game's first power play when Jake Guentzel scored on the rebound of a Phil Kessel shot at 15:25 of the first.
The Stars tied the game 1-1 early in the second when Alexander Radulov set up Tyler Seguin who score from the right circle with the Stars on the rush. The Penguins had a goal waved off at 5:24 of the second period for goaltender interference, challenged the ruling and lost.
The Penguins did take the lead nine minutes later when Kessel stole the puck from Roman Polak behind the Dallas net and set up Jared McCann, who scored from the slot to make it a 2-1 game at 14:41 of the second.
The Stars drew even on a goal by Andrew Cogliano, who roofed a shot from the left circle on the rush with 1:20 left in the period. That snapped a 20-game goal scoring drought for the Dallas forward.
"It's obviously important to contribute what I can," Cogliano said. I have been working hard and doing what I can, and I think I bring elements to the team that is helping, and I have brought with my experience. Hopefully, I can continue that."
Just 10 seconds after the Cogliano goal, Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin stopped a point-blank bid by McCann to keep it a 2-2 game going into the third period, where the Penguins scored the only goal.
With the Stars on a power play early in the period, Penguins forward Teddy Blueger knocked the puck past Stars defenseman John Klingberg in the neutral zone to set up a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush and then set up McCann, who scored off a spinning backhand shot to make it a 3-2 game.
"I knew there was going to be a 2-on-1 but I tried to get the puck first, and he chipped it over my blade and then it's a 2-on-1," said Klingberg. "I tried to make the best out of it, but the puck went in, and it is what it is right now."
Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray had big stops on Seguin and Radulov to keep it a 3-2 game, and then the Stars couldn't connect on a late 6-on-4 power play with Khudobin out of the net for an extra attacker.
"We had plenty of opportunities to score on the power play and tie it up coming down the stretch, and your best players got to lead you there," said Montgomery. "Just like they get the credit when we beat Florida, they also have to be the guys that take ownership when things don't go well on the power play, and we lose momentum, and we lose a hockey game.
"That was costly tonight."
Video: Montgomery on missed opportunities during homestand
2. Stars can't salvage rocky homestand
The five-game homestand was a disappointing one for the Stars, who had 10 points available and were able to pick up only three in going 1-3-1. The Stars played well at times, but the inability to score and some mistakes proved costly over the five games.
"Missed opportunity. That's what it really comes down to," said Stars coach Jim Montgomery.
"Not good enough, that's what the bottom line is," said Stars forward Andrew Cogliano. "You can't take moral victories at this point in the season; you just need to get points. The teams that do get points are the teams that make the playoffs. Did we play bad? Probably not, but it just was not good enough this time of the year with our desperation to grind out points, and those are kind of the ones that we needed this time."
The Stars scored 10 goals in the five games (2.0 per game), and four of them came in the win over Florida. The Stars outshot and outchanced their opposition in all five games during the homestand, but could only outscore them once.
Now, the Stars have to head out on the road where they will play their next four games and five of their final seven as they try to secure a playoff spot. The first two games of the road trip will be against division leaders Winnipeg and Calgary.
"We could be sitting in a really comfortable position if we win three of five on this homestand, but we haven't done that," said Montgomery. "So, we've got to look ahead now, and we've got to go and earn it on the road. And there's nothing wrong with that."
Video: Cogliano says no moral victories this time of year
3. Losing ground in race for third, wild card tightens
The Stars lost ground in the race for third place in the Central Division and saw teams below them get a little closer in the wild-card race.
The Stars are now six points behind St. Louis for third in the Central after the Blues defeated Tampa Bay. Colorado moved into the second wild-card spot with a 4-2 win over Chicago and is two points behind the Stars. Arizona, which is third in the wild-card race and ninth in the West, picked up one point in a shootout loss and is three points behind the Stars.
Minnesota, which is fourth in the wild-card race and 11th in the West, lost at Carolina and is three points behind the Stars.
The Stars had a five-point lead over the ninth-place spot in the West when the homestand began, and that lead is down to three. The Stars and Blues were tied at 79 points when the homestand began and now the Stars trail St. Louis by six points.
Video: PIT@DAL: Seguin finishes great pass from Radulov
4. Spezza scratched for second time in three games
Forward Jason Spezza was a healthy scratch for Saturday's game against Pittsburgh, the second time in the last three games that Spezza has been scratched. Stars coach Jim Montgomery said he and his staff made the move in the best interest of the team.
"It's as simple as that," Montgomery said. "When you are delivering bad news, especially to someone who has had a great career like Jason Spezza, it is 'This is what's best for the team, and this is what we think is going to help us make the playoffs.'"
Montgomery declined to discuss Spezza's recent play.
"We're doing what we think is best for the team. I am not going to go into specifics about his game," Montgomery said.
Spezza was scratched for Tuesday's game against Florida, played in Thursday's game against Colorado but only saw 7:07 of ice time. Brett Ritchie was also scratched Saturday.
The Stars recalled center Justing Dowling to play in Saturday's game, and he started the night centering the second line with Jamie Benn and Joel L'Esperance on his wings.
"We wanted to inject a little energy into the lineup," Montgomery said, "and we also wanted to add another player we think can make plays in all three zones."
Dowling played 14:04, had one shot attempt, two hits, three blocked shots and won four of nine faceoffs.
Video: PIT@DAL: Khudobin robs Guentzel twice from in tight
5. Penguins snap losing skid in Dallas
The Stars are 4-6-1 in their last 11 games at home. ... Pittsburgh snapped a five-game losing streak in Dallas with Saturday's win. ... The Stars outshot the Penguins 31-30. ... Both teams had 60 shot attempts. ... According to naturalstattrick.com, the Stars had a 19-12 advantage in high-danger chances. ... The Stars were 0-for-3 on the power play and 0-for-1 on the penalty kill. ... Dallas gave up a shorthanded goal for only the second time this season. The first one was a shorthanded empty-netter. ... The Stars won 27 of 54 faceoffs (50 percent). Radek Faksa won 8 of 15 draws (53 percent). Tyler Seguin won 7 of 14 (50 percent). ... John Klingberg led the Stars with 29:01 of ice time.
Here is the lineup the Stars used to start Saturday's game along with the scratches and injuries.
Roope Hintz - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Jamie Benn - Justin Dowling - Joel L'Esperance
Mattias Janmark - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Andrew Cogliano - Jason Dickinson - Valeri Nichushkin
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Taylor Fedun - Ben Lovejoy
Scratched: Jamie Oleksiak, Julius Honka, Brett Ritchie, Jason Spezza
Injured: Mats Zuccarello (broken arm), Tyler Pitlick (wrist surgery), Martin Hanzal (back) Marc Methot (knee surgery), Stephen Johns (post-traumatic headaches)
Video: Condensed Game: Penguins @ Stars
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mark Stepneski has covered the Stars for DallasStars.com since 2012. Follow him on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.