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Goaltending is least of Stars' concerns after blowout loss

Some fixes will be easier than others as Dallas tries to turn the page from an ugly game at Florida

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

After Ben Bishop allowed four goals on five shots in the second period and was pulled from the net in what would become a 7-4 loss to the Florida Panthers on Friday night, interim coach Rick Bowness issued a strong supporting statement for his goaltender.

"Ben Bishop is an elite goaltender, one of the best in the league," Bowness said. "He'll be up for the Vezina like the last couple years. If he keeps his numbers up, he could have another shot this year.

"Ben Bishop is the least of our worries, trust me."

He's right, y'know. Even after that debacle, Bishop still ranks fifth in goals against average at 2.29 and eighth in save percentage at .926. And even if Bishop doesn't play Sunday against the Calgary Flames, the Stars as a team are still first in goals against (2.43) and first in save percentage (.923).

Goaltending is the least of their worries.

Even when you look at the team defense, there were issues that helped create scoring chances against the past three games, but they are rare departures from the norm for this team.

"We aren't battling hard enough," Bowness said of the defense after describing their play around the net as soft. "We are doing things that we haven't done. I don't know why we were standing still in the neutral zone when they put the puck behind us. We don't practice that -- we've never done it. I saw us standing, not competing, around our net, something we haven't done all year. We saw some things the last two games we really haven't done all year, and we can correct those."

Video: DAL@FLA: Bowness on Stars' lopsided loss to Panthers

Again, the belief is there that this won't be a consistent issue. The Stars have built an identity as a strong defending team over the past 100 games or so, and they seem to be able to call that style of game up on a fairly regular basis. It's one reason they are 19-6-3 in their past 28 games.

"This group, we believe we can play with the best teams," forward Joe Pavelski said after the loss. "But we can play with them when we're ready to compete, when we're a good four-line team, and when we step over the boards and everyone's engaged. Whatever the reason, last few games, we need to, moving forward, figure it out."

The guess is they will, because they have done it before. They have bounced back after a 1-7-1 start, they have bounced back after a horrific game in Winnipeg, they have bounced back after having their coach fired the day of a game. They know what they're doing.

But an interesting sidenote to these past three games is the fact the Stars have played three of the best offensive teams in the league, and that might have affected them.

Edmonton has the two leading scorers in the league in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and while the Stars were good defensively, they lost a 2-1 game. Tampa Bay ranks third in scoring, and Dallas only won 5-4 in overtime because Anton Khudobin stopped 45 shots. The Panthers rank fourth in goals scored and Dallas was down 7-1 midway through the game.

While coaches and players said the issues were different on different nights, it does seem that the Stars still are trying to find their compass under the restructured coaching staff.

Against the Lightning, there was a lack of communication between the forwards and defense. Against the Panthers, the Stars were doubled up on shots in the first period. In both games, they took too many penalties and ended up surrendering key power play goals against.

Video: DAL@FLA: 'Not a good night' for Bishop in tough loss

Could that have been because the Stars were too worried about the explosive offense on the other side of the ice? Could that be because the Stars themselves are trying to find their offensive way? It's a topic still to be resolved.

In the Lightning game, Bowness played Roope Hintz a season-low 9:10. Denis Gurianov has been in the 10-minute range most games under Bowness before surging up to 13:56 against the Panthers.

"I didn't have a good feel for them tonight," Bowness said after the Tampa Bay game. "Some of that is me and some of that is them."

Bowness said he would like better decision-making and better structure from both speedsters. Hintz is 23 and Gurianov is 22, so both are still learning.

"They're young players and they've got a lot to learn, and that's our job as coaches to help guide them through that," Bowness said. "There are going to be mistakes, and we're going to have to help them through it and help them become better players."

That said, Hintz leads the team with 12 goals and Gurianov has seven while averaging the second-fewest minutes among regular forwards. So while goaltending and team defense seem set, the ability to improve the 25th-ranked offense might rest with Bowness' ability to bring his forward group together.

"Roope, he needs ice time. You've got to play better to get ice time, you're always caught with that, but we've got to get him back," Bowness said. "He's just too big an asset, too important part of our team, so we've got to give him more minutes and we've got to get him more engaged in the game."

Video: DAL@FLA: Gurianov buries loose puck from the low slot

Likewise, Gurianov also has the opportunity to be an "asset."

"He can be a little better in our zone, there's no question, but what we want is to see him use his speed," Bowness said of an area where Gurianov can be better offensively. "You don't like when you see them driving down the wing and then pull up…just keep skating. They're tough to defend. It's not only their speed, they're powerful, they're strong, and we just got to get all of those assets working together."

Which might be a common theme with this team.

Tyler Seguin had two goals last game and now has four in his past three games and points in five straight. Jamie Benn scored last game. Players like Jason Dickinson, Radek Faksa and Andrew Cogliano have been recent contributors. The Stars function best when they function as a team.

They did it against the Islanders, they did it against the Devils, they did it against the Predators. They can do it more often than not. Now, they just have to find out how to get back to what makes them good.

"We saw some things the last two games that we haven't done all year," Bowness said. "We can correct those, and we will."

Sunday would be a good time to start.

 

Stars (20-13-4) vs. Flames (18-14-5)

Sunday, 6 p.m. CT

Where: American Airlines Center

TV: FOX Sports Southwest, NHL Network

Radio: The Ticket 1310-AM, 96.7-FM

Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Calgary Flames as they return home to American Airlines Center on Sunday at 6 p.m. The first 5,000 kids receive a Miro Heiskanen youth jersey presented by AT&T. Get your tickets now!

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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