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Burnside: Five takeaways from Stars exhibition loss to Avalanche

The top line is still a work in progress following a 4-2 defeat to Colorado on Monday

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB /

The Dallas Stars started slowly, came on strong and somehow ended up losing to the Colorado Avalanche 4-2. Oh well, that's preseason for you. Go figure. The Stars are now 2-2 in games that don't really count.

Here are some things we saw and/or thought about.

Video: Seguin on loss to Avs

1. Big unit not quite in sync

There still hasn't been a lot to show for the Stars' big unit of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov. Not much of a surprise, really. Monday marked just the second time they've appeared in preseason action, and the first was last Tuesday.

The trio plays as the first power-play unit, as well as 5-on-5, and through the two games, have managed just one goal -- a power-play goal in the first game. Still, there was a moment in Monday's loss where Radulov chased down three or four loose pucks in the offensive zone on one shift, and the Stars ended up with a terrific scoring chance, that was a kind of 'A-ha!' moment -- or at least an illustration of why head coach Ken Hitchcock is so excited to have Radulov here.

Still, the coach thinks the trio needs to trust their work as opposed to their skill.

"And I think when they do that they have a chance to be very dynamic," Hitchcock said.

Seguin acknowledged there are times when he has gone to help Radulov in the offensive zone when he doesn't need it and that the same dynamic happened early on in his on-ice relationship with Benn. In short, things will work out.

"I don't know if you want to call them kinks or what it is but we're sorting through it all," Seguin said. "We're figuring it out. Rads is a guy that loves to talk he loves the game and he knows a lot so we've been bouncing things off each other obviously a long way to go but we're not nervous about anything quite yet."

The trio may be back on the ice Tuesday night at home when the team entertains the Minnesota Wild.

Video: Bishop likes effort despite loss

2. Slow start and finish that didn't quite get there

The Stars didn't get their first shot on goal until almost 11 minutes had passed in the first period, and they were already down 1-0 thanks to a Nathan MacKinnon goal 30 clicks into the game. But the rest of the way, the Stars out-shot Colorado 36-17.

They did so because they won puck battles and were adept at creating turnovers in the neutral zone and turning those into chances.

Give credit to Avs netminder Jonathan Bernier, who was solid in turning aside 25 of 26 shots through two periods. Semyon Varlamov stopped nine of 10 Dallas shots in the third period. Last time we saw Bernier, he was collapsing in goal for Anaheim in Game 6 of the Western Conference final, but if he can replicate his play for much of the regular season with the Ducks the Avs are another step towards recovery.

"Today's a great lesson because we had really good control of the hockey game and those are the games that you've got to trust that you're going to win in it in the 55th minute, the 56th minute," Hitchcock said. "And we kind of cracked. We cracked a little bit. We forced offense. We forced the puck into areas that weren't proper and paid for it so that's a good lesson moving forward for tomorrow."

Video: Oleksiak on roster competition

3. Oleksiak's star continues to rise

Jamie Oleksiak has been the talk of camp for the past few days, as Hitchcock has taken a hard look at the big man as a top-four defender playing with Esa Lindell on the right side even though Oleksiak's a left handed shot.

On Monday, though, he played on his natural left side with Stephen Johns, while Lindell played with John Klingberg.

The 'why' of that is simple: Oleksiak has basically established himself as that top four guy and the coaching staff were more interested in examining other players.

"To me we've made up our mind on Jamie," Hitchcock said. "I think I've been pretty direct on that."

And there were plenty of moments where the upside was clear. At one point in the second period, Oleksiak saw an opening down the ride side and carried the puck deep into the Colorado and managed to get to the bench while the Stars controlled play and enjoyed several good scoring chances.

Late in the second period, though, Oleksiak couldn't close quickly enough on Alex Kerfoot who scored on his own rebound to make it 3-1 at the time.

Just saying.

Video: Stars can't crack Avs at home

4. ... which brings us to Julius Honka

It hasn't been all smooth sailing for talented defenseman Julius Honka in this training camp, but there are nights like Monday that make you wonder at what will be missing from this team if Honka isn't on the roster.

But after Hitchcock praised the work of Johns again, it's hard to imagine how Honka fits -- especially if the organizational plan is for him to play in the American Hockey League as opposed to sit or play irregularly as a seventh or even eighth defenseman in Dallas.

On Monday, Honka had seven shots on goal to lead all players and had six others blocked for 13 shot attempts. He scored a pretty goal by moving the puck in from the left side and then seeing an opening faking and moving right before beating Varlamov early in the third to make it 3-2.

"Honestly I felt very good today out there," Honka said. "It was my third exhibition game and I started to feel better and better all the time."

Late in the game, with starter Ben Bishop on the bench for an extra skater, Honka tried to make a lateral pass along the blue line that was intercepted and ended up as an empty net goal. Hitchcock said with more confidence Honka will shoot that puck.

"And we're probably be going to be facing off at center ice," the coach said. "He brings a dynamic that not many teams have so. We're down two goals and he's controlling the hockey game which is exactly what you're going to need."

But does he fit here with players like Oleksiak and Johns playing so well?

"Not my problem," Hitchcock joked. "That's Jim's problem," he added referencing GM Jim Nill.

Video: Stars fall to Colorado at home

5. And, off the top of our head

Off the top of our head, thought R.J. Umberger had his best outing of training camp. ... Gemel Smith likewise came in for praise from Hitchcock, and is a player who has shown great tenacity and about whom we should probably have spoken more given that he is likely headed to the AHL. ... And at the risk of being repetitive, Devin Shore was once again terrific, drawing two penalties with his quickness and picking up the primary assist on the first Dallas goal by Brett Ritchie. Hitchcock agreed saying at times this camp he's been the team's best forward. The question now is how far up the lineup Shore ends up playing when the games go from meaningless to meaning everything.

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

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