DALLAS -- Jim Montgomery was asked Thursday morning what he took away from the emotional swings of the first four games.
"The NHL is a grind," the Stars coach responded. "That's what I take away."
Thursday night's 3-2 shootout loss to the Calgary Flames confirmed that feeling. Dallas played its most complete game of the young season, had a 2-0 lead early in the third period, and still somehow found a way to gain just a point in the standings, moving to 1-3-1.
Dallas had a 36-29 advantage in shots on goal and a 77-50 advantage in shot attempts. It drew four power plays, and handed out just two. It created some fantastic scoring chances in the overtime, and probably should have won in regulation.
And yet, there was much quiet in the postgame dressing room.
"We're not happy with the results," Montgomery said. "We do think it was our best game of the year, against a really good team, but we're finding ways to let other teams come back. That second goal can't happen to us, we've got to manage the game better."
Video: "We do think it was our best game of the year"
That second goal came when captain Jamie Benn gave a puck away that started a transition for the Flames and ended with Noah Hanifin tying the game at the 5:32 mark of the third period.
"We had the effort tonight," Benn said. "Pretty much the deciding play was my turnover in the third. It's a stupid play, and it cost us, and the game shouldn't have even gone into overtime or shootout."
Benn is a microcosm of his team right now.
He is pushing to do things right, he is coming up with big plays, and yet he's also making mistakes that are costing points. The captain scored the power-play goal that gave the Stars a 2-0 lead just nine seconds into the third period. He finished with six shots on goal and 11 shot attempts. And yet he gave the puck away at a time when the Stars seemed to be in complete control. Sure, they had surrendered a goal to Elias Lindholm on a Joe Pavelski boarding penalty that cut the lead to 2-1, but they still seemed in control.
Dallas had the swagger until the Benn play gave the Flames' new hope.
He's not alone, of course, John Klingberg and Tyler Seguin took ill-advised penalties late against Washington Tuesday. Justin Dowling took ill-advised penalties against the Capitals (roughing) and then against the Flames, as well (puck over the glass). Veterans have been giving pucks away at bad times and not getting pucks deep when they need to get them deep.
And that's a big reason why the team is off to a rough start.
"There are positives out of this game, but we've got to learn how to manage games," Montgomery said. "It was a game just like the Detroit game and the St. Louis game where we should close things out, and that's where we have to get better."
Video: DAL Recap: L'Esperance, Benn score in shootout loss
On the good side of this non-win is the fact the Stars did play well for long stretches of the game. They dominated the second period, they finally scored with the man advantage (and finally had more power plays than the opposition), and they started to see inspired play by their best players.
Seguin had six shots on goal and won 69 percent of his faceoffs (nine-of-16), Alexander Radulov had five shots on goal and hit the post in overtime, Joe Pavelski had six shot attempts and won five-of-six draws. There was much to like in this one, and much that could be duplicated going forward.
If the Stars can do that, then results could turn out much better.
"I think we played better today," said defenseman John Klingberg. "I think we had some really good looks. Our power play was a lot better, too, we got one, but we could have had more. I think if we keep playing like this, we're going to get the result as well."
We can argue who should be shooting in the shootout, because that's the fun part of sports. We can ponder whether coaches are learning, whether players are learning, whether the team is on the right path toward improvement. It's one of the reasons we watch the game -- to analyze and imagine what's ahead.
The Stars adjusted and improved against the Flames, and that was a good sign, Montgomery said.
"In the first four to six minutes, they used walls well on us. Defensively, we weren't making right reads so we were giving up odd man rushes. That put us on our heels, but we were skating," Montgomery said.
Video: "We're going to keep building on this"
"Our effort was there right from the beginning, we had good energy and then we started putting pucks in and getting on top of people and playing our brand of hockey."
It was a sign of just what this team could do if it started playing with more consistency.
After missing all of training camp and the start of the season with a fractured bone in his foot, Corey Perry is skating and is expected to play at some point on the upcoming four-game road trip through Buffalo, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Jason Dickinson, who suffered an upper-body injury in Game 1, is also skating and also could be near a return.
When that happens, the lines will have to shuffle again, and the process of finding chemistry will be moved to another burner with a new temperature and some new ingredients.
That's the NHL.
It is a grind, and you have to be able to live with that fact if you hope to reach your potential.
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.