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More questions than answers for Stars after exhibition loss

Dallas, which scored just three goals in four games before the pause, finds itself frustrated again offensively

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Well, the Stars still have plenty of questions.

The good thing is they have three days to get ready for their first round-robin game and more than a week before they start playing real playoff games.

Dallas lost a 2-0 "exhibition" game to the Nashville Predators Thursday in their first shot at "bubble hockey" in Edmonton.

It was a frustrating game for an offense that scored just three goals in four games before the league paused the season on March 12. It was a confusing game because leading scorer Tyler Seguin was declared "unfit for play" - the NHL's response to all players who are not performing in a game - and because Andrew Cogliano appeared to suffer an injury during the game. And it was game that was difficult to assess, because Nashville will start a best-of-five "qualifying" playoff series with Arizona on Sunday.

The Predators looked like a team that needed to play well in the exhibition game. The Stars looked like a team that knew it had more time. Nashville bolted out of the gate and took a 1-0 lead while piling up an 8-1 advantage in shots on goal. The Stars battled back and closed the shot on goal gap to 27-25 in favor of the Predators by game's end.

Video: Benn, Dellandrea on performance in Stars' exhibition

"We had 59 shot attempts, but the disappointing part is the 23 shots blocked," Stars interim coach Rick Bowness said. "I think we were a little slow releasing the puck and I think some of our best looks we didn't get good wood on it. There were some things we liked, and we're just going to have to keep working on it."

And that is the good and the bad of the day. On one hand, the Stars came back and played a competitive game. On the other hand, they were sloppy and anemic offensively. Now, some of that can be attributed to rust, and that's a legitimate concern.

"It was our first game in four months," said captain Jamie Benn. "There were some good things, there were things we need to improve."

And as for whether or not the team remembers the fact it scored three goals in its final four games in March, Benn said: "We don't even think about it."

Bowness, too, said whatever happened in the first 69 games isn't relevant, but you have to at least say it is a part of what this team is, right? They did struggle to score back then. They did make a commitment to improving their offense in the "Return to Play." They did want to improve.

Video: DAL Recap: Stars shut out by Predators, 2-0

"The timing was off, you saw guys who were wide open and we made bad passes," Bowness said. "The decisions were the right ones, but the timing was bad."

The power play suffered because Seguin couldn't play. Because the league does not want to reveal positive COVID-19 tests individually, every injury or illness will be labeled "unfit to play." Bowness hinted that Seguin's situation was more of an injury, and it was clear that Cogliano got hurt when he was pushed to the ice in the first period.

Still, he said Seguin's loss was a concern for the power play.

"I didn't like the power play," he said. "You take Seggy out of there; you've been practicing for 10 days and all of the sudden he's not there. But even that being said, that's not an excuse, because we were too slow moving the puck at times. There were guys wide open and we waited the extra second or two and we lost the opportunity."

Both could be ready to go Monday vs. Vegas, but both also might not be ready. That's part of the cloak and dagger part of the pandemic. If either can't play, rookie Ty Dellandrea looked good in his performance. The Stars' first-round pick in 2018, Dellandrea played 9:39 and was credited with six hits.

Video: Bowness gives update on Seguin, Cogliano after defeat

In net, Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin split the time. Bishop stopped 16 of 18 shots, while Khudobin stopped all nine he faced.

"They certainly weren't the problem," Bowness said. "How can you win a game if you don't score?"

That, unfortunately, is a question that has been asked a few too many times this season. Yes, March was a long time ago, but this still is pretty much the same team trying to battle pretty much the same issues.

Can they fix that at some point in the Return to Play? They believe they can.

"We're going to look at it, our coaches will dissect it," Benn said. "Now, the real game begins. We'll take the good out of it, and improve on the bad."

 

Up next: vs. Golden Knights

Monday, 5:30 p.m. CT

TV: FOX Sports Southwest, NHL Network

Radio: The Ticket 96.7-FM, 1310-AM

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, and listen to his podcast.

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