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Burnside: Five takeaways from Stars' reality-check loss to Jets

Following another disappointment, the Stars have ground to make up behind top-tier teams in the West

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

The Dallas Stars will be happy to see the end of the Winnipeg Jets -- at least until they meet again on Feb. 24 after being waxed for the second time in four days, this time 4-1 on home ice Monday night.

Here are some ponderings and thoughts on a sobering night against a suddenly-powerful division opponent as the Stars get a break before entertaining the Islanders on Friday to close out this three-game homestand.

Video: Benn on 'embarrassing' home loss

 

1. Sobering reality

Let's start with sobering reality No. 1. At the start of the season, the Jets and Stars had both hoped to jump back into playoff relevance after a disappointing 2016-17 season that saw both teams miss the playoffs.

In fact, the Jets have made the playoffs just once since relocating from Atlanta in the summer of 2011 and the franchise (Atlanta/Winnipeg) has never won a playoff game.

But a month into the regular season, the Jets have proven themselves to be a legitimate playoff-caliber team -- and they are arguably, along with Los Angeles and St. Louis, one of the top teams in the Western Conference.

Dallas? Not so much, as they saw a five-game home winning streak come to a crashing end as they imploded in the first, allowing a goal 26 seconds into the game. Then another with 55.9 seconds left in the first. And a Patrik Laine power-play goal in between to put themselves irreparably behind the eight ball on this night.

Never mind that only three points separates these two teams in the standings, right now, the Jets exist in a galaxy far, far away from the Stars.

"We just had the same performances by the same guys," said head coach Ken Hitchcock. "So that's pretty telling and that puts us in a position where we got to do some soul searching over the next 2-3 days if we want to get to the next level and play against the big boys, because it's a different animal when you're playing against Winnipeg and teams like St. Louis, and teams like Nashville. And we had the same underwhelming performances by the same people, so we got to make some decisions."

Video: Hitchcock reacts to home loss

 

2. Another dose of reality

Sobering reality No. 2? After getting buried in the first period of Thursday's 5-2 loss in Winnipeg, the Stars talked about needing to get off to a better start at home in the rematch. And while Dallas did heed their own advice against Buffalo on Saturday -- scoring four times in the first period en route to a 5-1 win -- the problem is self-evident.

Apart from ferocious winters, there is little that is common about Buffalo and Winnipeg when it comes to hockey acumen. And in a game that should have provided all kinds of urgency for the Stars after being humbled in Winnipeg, they couldn't get out of their own way in giving up three first-period goals to finish outscored 6-1 in the first period of two games against the Jets.

"It's embarrassing, really," said captain Jamie Benn, who was -- as he has been for about 80 percent of the Stars' games this season -- the best player in green and white.

"Seems like you can pretty much win a hockey game in the first period these days. They've done it to us twice now. We did it to Buffalo last game but there's no excuse. It's embarrassing."

Never mind the Scheifele goal 26 seconds in. Stuff happens, and Scheifele is feasting on the Stars, having scored five goals and added an assist in two games in four days against Dallas.

But Marc Methot failed to clear on a simple play five minutes later and John Klingberg ended up taking a hooking penalty, which set the stage for Laine to rip home his third power-play goal in three games to make it 2-0 just 5:12 into the game.

So, maybe the Stars were weary. Head coach Ken Hitchcock had talked about how Saturday and Monday's games were really continuation of the team's recently completed five-game, 11-day road trip.

That explains potential fatigue late in the game, not stumbling out of the gate.

Inexcusable.

"I mean, a guy like Jamie Benn just about carried us on his back the whole game. I mean, he was unbelievable," Hitchcock said. "And we need more people dug in and following that direction. We didn't have enough. We didn't have enough again at the start when the temperature's white-hot."

At least in Winnipeg, the Stars actually closed the gap to 3-2 at one point before the Jets pulled away in the third. On Monday, the Stars never got that close.

"Like I said, it's embarrassing," Benn said. "There's no excuse, especially when they did that to us game in their building, and you want to come out and make a statement and bounce back, and we definitely did not do that."

Video: WPG@DAL: Benn scores PPG in 600th NHL game

 

3. In praise of Hellebuyck

Let's take a minute to shower some praise on Winnipeg netminder Connor Hellebuyck.

There were some opportunities for the Stars to get back in this game. They scored on the power play early in the second to make it 3-1. But there were plenty of terrific opportunities for Dallas to further cut into the Jets' lead, including a Benn chance down the left side in the opening minute of the second period.

Benn was also denied by a brilliant Hellebuyck pad save on Dallas's second power-play opportunity.

In all, Hellebuyck stopped 33 of 34 shots on Monday to run his record to 8-0-2 and is the only netminder in the league with at least nine starts who has yet to lose in regulation this year.

And remember this: Hellebuyck is a 24-year-old fifth-round draft pick that had a chance to earn the starter's job in Winnipeg last season and couldn't do it. And he started this season as the presumed backup to free-agent signee Steve Mason, but has seized the moment in a way that few could have expected.

On a night when Dallas starter Ben Bishop was only meh, especially with the game on the line, Hellebuyck stood out once again.

Video: WPG@DAL: Bishop turns away Ehlers, Little

 

4. Finish wanted

Sure, Hellebuyck was terrific. But if it's one thing we've learned from this Dallas team, especially against quality opponents, it's that finish is something more often found on furniture than on the ice.

Moments after Benn made the score 3-1, rookie Remi Elie drove to the net in the clear down the left side and pounded a shot high and wide.

Got to hit the net on that chance. End of story.

On several occasions, Alexander Radulov regressed to his must pass, not shoot mentality that marked his early games in Dallas.

On multiple occasions, when the Stars were able to get good looks from the point, the Jets did a great job of clearing shooting lanes so Hellebuyck had eyes on pucks.

And for those keeping score at home, Jason Spezza and Devin Shore -- both regular participants on the team's power-play units -- continued to battle season-long scoring droughts, combining for two shots on goal and, well, zero goals.

That's why they call them scoring droughts.

And after a nice explosion of depth scoring on Saturday -- yes, it was Buffalo. We get that -- the Stars are back to the troubling pattern of not getting anything unless it's provided by the big line and/or on the power play, which on this night, was the same thing.

"They're ability to defend the front of the net is stronger than ours is and that's why they're negating goals against," Hitchcock said. "We never got any second or third whacks at net front. We had lots of activity but never got any second or third whacks."

Video: Stars host emotional Hockey Fights Cancer Night

 

5. Odds and ends

The Stars are now 1-5 against the Central Division with their lone win coming against Colorado at home. That's the kind of trend that has to be reversed if the Stars presume themselves to be a playoff team.

The Jamie Oleksiak left-wing experiment didn't really pan out as he played 2:10 in the first and 1:45 in the second and 4:44 overall. Not really his fault, Hitchcock said. But it's not fair to throw a longtime defenseman on to the left wing and then say, "Hey, go get a goal." Hard to imagine that experiment is revisited, even if Tyler Pitlick and/or Radek Faksa, who both missed Monday's game, can't go Friday.

Martin Hanzal's return the lineup after missing three games is important long-term, but in the short term, it was clear he's not at 100 percent -- even if he insisted he was. He was part of the schmozzle in the neutral zone that led to the last-minute goal in the first period and finished minus-1 on the night -- although he did have three shots on goal in 10:22 of ice time.

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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