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Early hole deepens for Stars as offense comes up empty against Sabres

Dallas can't capitalize on scoring chances in shutout loss, falling to 1-5-1 for the first time since 1990-91

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Stars have cited poor game management as a significant cause in their 1-5-1 start and received another great example Monday in the form of a 4-0 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.

Trying to defend against a Buffalo cycle, Dallas was trapped in its own end for more than two minutes. Then, when the Stars finally secured possession of the puck, Alexander Radulov skated out into the neutral zone. He didn't get to the red line and he chipped the puck too hard. That caused an icing and meant the Stars' tired players had to remain on the ice.

Stars defenseman John Klingberg had an ankle injury and tried to get back to the bench even though he was supposed to stay on the ice. However, officials decided Klingberg was embellishing an injury to gain an advantage in rest, and they whistled Dallas for delay of game. That put Buffalo's league-leading power play on the ice, and the Sabres responded with a hard one-timer from rookie Victor Olofsson for the first goal of the game.

All around, it was a perfect microcosm for the Stars' season so far.

But, really, the entire game was, as well.

Video: Montgomery breaks down Stars' shutout loss to Sabres

Dallas didn't create scoring chances, didn't respond to challenges, and didn't deserve to win.

On a day when the team felt its back was to the wall entering the matinee contest, that was both surprising and disappointing.

Stars coach Jim Montgomery said he felt the team gave a spirited effort, but simply couldn't create and convert enough scoring chances.

"They capitalized on their opportunities," Montgomery said of the Sabres. "They shot the puck, their power play is hot, their best players are clicking right now. Conversely for us, I thought we skated and competed tonight, but we didn't generate enough offense."

The Stars had 25 shots on goal but outshot the Sabres 12-3 in the third period when Buffalo was sitting on a good lead. Dallas finished with eight scoring chances and now ranks 30th in the league at 1.86 goals per game.

 

[MORE COVERAGE: Best photos from Stars-Sabres in Buffalo]

 

"We did play better today than we did against Washington, but it's not enough," said winger Alexander Radulov. "It's hard, but no one said before the season it would be easy. We've got to battle through and find a way. It is what it is right now."

But what it is is a little confusing.

Are the Stars a good team that checks well and simply needs to create more offensive pressure? Or are they a team that doesn't handle challenges well and consistently makes bad decisions during games?

When the Stars got stuck in their own end, Buffalo fed off the energy and kept pounding Dallas with line changes. When Radulov finally got the puck out, he could have gotten to the line or been better with the chip and not taken an icing. Then, when the Stars went on the penalty kill, they could have come up with the stop.

"I think we've just got to get that kill," said Andrew Cogliano, who was out on the ice with Jamie Oleksiak, Esa Lindell and Matias Janmark at the time.

Video: DAL Recap: Stars held scoreless by Hutton, Sabres

"They've had a good power play all year, but we need to find a way to get a kill. It was a tough penalty, but those are the kind that you want to kill for your team. We got caught running around a little bit and they made a good play. If we would have found a way to keep it 0-0 there, you don't know what happens. Up to that point, I thought we were playing a pretty good game."

The Stars were in the middle of a strategic chess match at the time, and keeping things tied would have been nice, but they also could have found a way to score a goal or stop the next one. The Stars continued to make mistakes, and the Sabres continued to capitalize.

"There's so many different scenarios within a game or within a year, and you've got to bail each other out at times," said Stars captain Jamie Benn. "It would have been nice to get that kill, but they scored three more goals. I felt our effort was better than the last game, but still not good enough."

And whether that's coming up with a big kill or adding a key goal, the Stars aren't consistently making the right plays at the right time. They come up a second late or an inch off. So how do they respond to a 1-5-1 start, which is their worst record after seven games since moving to Dallas?

"You dig in as a group," Ben said. "A little adversity never hurt. It seems like it's magnified with the beginning of the year here. You can kind of get away with stretches like this in the middle of the season, but to have a tough start like this, it sucks. But we've got to keep digging in here."

Video: Benn on Stars' loss: 'A little adversity never hurts'

Montgomery said that while he is disappointed with losing and understands the urgency the team's record creates, he still believes he has to judge his squad on the performance he saw. Dallas had a 25-22 advantage in shots on goal, it won 57 percent of its faceoffs. Those are positives that the Stars can try to duplicate Wednesday in Columbus.

"I don't coach on results. I was not happy with our effort and our emotion and our execution last game, so our meetings are not as pleasant then. But right now, with how our team skated today, we're going to build on the little bit of positives we have," Montgomery said.

"It's a long year. There's going to be points in the year where in six games our power play is going to be 60 percent and things are going to roll for us. Buffalo is in a sweet spot right now and give credit to them. They checked great tonight and they're playing great team hockey. We checked well tonight, and now what needs to follow is the offensive part."

That's a philosophical way to look at things, but it's what you do when there are 75 games remaining this season.

"You control what you control, which is your preparation and your effort and your execution," Montgomery said. "That's true for everyone on the staff, and it's true for everyone on the ice."

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.

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