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Burnside: Five takeaways from a dispiriting loss in Nashville

The Stars' fast start yields little in the way of a positive note in the Music City as the Preds roll 4-1

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Dallas Stars, looking for their first winning streak of the season, instead found themselves falling into what has been an early pattern of failing to deliver offensively, falling 4-1 to the defending Western Conference champion Nashville Predators on Thursday night to bring their early-season record to a disappointing 1-3-0.

Here's a look at a night with more than a few sour notes in Music City.

Video: Hitchcock on tough loss in Nashville

 
1. Good from far, far from good

For perhaps the first 22 or 23 minutes of this game, you could argue the Stars were on track to continue the trend of being the best team on the ice. Even though they'd dropped two of three to start the season, they had enjoyed long periods of puck control and dominated the scoring-chances ledger, and in fact, came into the game allowing the fewest shots on goal per game in the National Hockey League.

But starting with a goal by rookie defenseman Samuel Girard three minutes, 27 seconds into the second period that tied the game, the Predators were the team that asserted itself, scoring again less than three minutes later to take the lead for good.

"They dialed it up in the second for seven or eight minutes and we didn't have an answer," head coach Ken Hitchcock said after. "And they scored their two goals and you're pressing the rest of the game."

Both teams ended up with 31 shots on goal, marking the first time the Stars have not out-shot an opponent this season. Captain Jamie Benn, who scored his first goal of the season on a first-period power play, shouldered much of the blame as his line continued to struggle to score at even strength.

"I think it all starts with myself and playing the right way, and I'm trying to lead the way," Benn said. "I think it's not good enough, and when you set a bad example, the rest of the team follows."

One of the troubling issues has been that the Stars have yet to find the resolve to answer when an opposing team presses them.

"When the other team starts to get momentum, or they get a goal, we need to respond as a group and probably not responding the right way," Benn said. "You can respond by either digging in and playing harder, or you can just back right off and let them keep coming at you. I think tonight, it was an example of that, where they start to bring the pressure, and we just kind of let them take it to us.

"That's not how you're going to win hockey games."

Video: DAL@NSH: Benn nets Klingberg's rebound for PPG

 

2. Opportunity squandered

The Nashville Predators were without two of their top defenders, with Ryan Ellis out long-term with a knee injury and newly-minted captain Roman Josi day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Didn't seem to bother the Preds, though, as youngster Samuel Girard stepped into the void more than capably.

The 19-year-old former Quebec Major Junior League sensation scored his first NHL goal in the second period on a blast from the point, thanks to a nice fake and pass by defensive partner P.K. Subban. Less than three minutes later, on the power play, Girard's hard shot was stopped by Ben Bishop, but Filip Forsberg tucked home the rebound to give the Predators a 2-1 lead.

On the other side of the youngster ledger, Julius Honka was back in the Dallas lineup for a second straight game as well, and continues to struggle to find his footing defensively. He also seemed tentative offensively, at one point giving up a good chance to shoot from the point in the third period to make a pass that went awry.

Honka played 14:37, mostly with Jamie Oleksiak, and was minus-1 with one shot on goal.

Video: Benn reacts to Nashville loss

 

3. Goals lacking

On the bright side, the Stars scored a power play goal for the fourth straight game. That's the first time that's happened to start a season since the team moved to Dallas in the summer of 1993.

John Klingberg continues to impress with his play, especially offensively, as his assist gives him points in four straight games on two goals and three assists. The bad news is that this talented lineup continues to suffer from a complete lack of finish.

Benn, Tyler Seguin and Remi Elie, among others, had terrific chances to score but couldn't beat Pekka Rinne, who stopped 30 of 31 shots. This isn't on Antoine Roussel, who is playing on the fourth line, but he perhaps best illustrates the frustration of the group as he had a wide-open net in the third period, and the Stars trailing 2-1, but somehow, the puck fluttered off the end of his stick and went well wide of a gaping net.

In all, the Stars have scored just three even-strength goals this season -- not counting the empty-net goal at the end of their lone win against Detroit -- and eight total.

"I'm concerned," Hitchcock said. "I'm concerned that not so much the production -- I think that's the end result -- but I'm concerned that we're missing a number of glorious opportunities, and too many games now, we're letting goalies outwork us, to be honest with you. That's the big concern for me right now. We've had three games where we've lost where we've made the goalie the first star and the best player on the other team. Going to have to figure that out quick." 

Video: DAL@NSH: Bishop makes big back-to-back saves

 

4. Big kill

The state of the Dallas penalty kill is going to be an ongoing theme this season, given how horrid it was last season. And early returns have been, for the most part, good.

The Stars withstood a big, early test Thursday when Martin Hanzal was assessed a major for interference for a hard hit on Yannick Weber in the neutral zone. Have zero problem with the penalty, even though Weber was reaching for the puck. Hanzal caught the unsuspecting defenseman mostly in the head, and Weber did not return to action. Have to figure the call on the ice will suffice, although no question the NHL's Department of Player Safety will take a good look at the play.

Hanzal said he thought Weber still had the puck and noted he did not leave his feet or get his elbow up on the play.

The good news for the Stars is that with one of their top penalty killers in the box for five minutes, they stifled a good Nashville power play, limiting them to two shots on goal. Still, the PK did give up the Predators' second goal when Jason Spezza was whistled for his second tripping call of the game.

The Stars earned only the one power-play opportunity.

Video: Stars can't solve Preds

 

5. And finally ...

Thought that in spite of the major penalty, the forward trio of Hanzal, Devin Shore and Mattias Janmark was effective again at controlling the play in the offensive zone. The best unit of the night from a danger point of view was likely Spezza, Elie -- who was solid again in a limited role since coming up from the American Hockey League -- and Brett Ritchie, who had his best game of the season.

Still, as Hanzal pointed out, pretty good is a ticket to disappointment in this league right now.

"I think we're playing okay, but okay's not good enough in this league," he said. "You have to be great, at your best every single night or you can't win in this league, because every other team you are playing (is) playing great. You have to be great every single night to win a hockey game."

So far, that hasn't happened nearly enough for the Dallas Stars.

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott Burnside on Twitter @OvertimeScottB and listen to his Burnside Chats podcast here.

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