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'We need to step up': Stars hit road with several areas in need of repair

From poor starts to slumping power play, Dallas enters critical trip with more questions than answers

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- On the good side, there are plenty of things the Stars can do to fix their team after a 1-4-1 start.

On the bad side, there are a lot of things they need to repair.

Dallas has gone 1-for-20 on the power play, is struggling to start games with passion, and ranks 28th in goals per game at 2.17. They have had their moments of strong play, but they're terribly inconsistent and haven't really done the things they have set out to do in the game plan.

That's a frustrating feeling.

"You know what the keys to the game were tonight?" Stars coach Jim Montgomery said after a 4-1 home loss to Washington Saturday. "Faceoff intensity, wear them down on the forecheck and putting pucks behind their net. And win special teams."

Video: Montgomery says Stars lacked compete on power play

Dallas won 46 percent of its faceoffs, was unable to sustain pressure at even strength, and allowed two power-play goals against while going 0-for-6 with the man-advantage. His point was they did very few of the things that they were planning to do.

So is there a disconnect between the coaches and players or is it simply a matter of not being able to execute against opposition that is playing well?

"As a coaching staff, we've got to look in the mirror and (ask) what are we doing wrong that we don't get off to better starts? We've been trying to look at it and it's just too reminiscent of last year," Montgomery said. "We've tried putting more video, doing less video. We've tried putting keys to the game on the board, just telling them what the keys to the game are."

And while they have played just six games, there clearly is frustration on the part of the players, as well.

"Yeah, I mean we just haven't had good starts and (Saturday) was the same kind of thing," Stars center Tyler Seguin said. "We got into penalty trouble, shot ourselves in the foot with six minutes of penalty kill to start the game. 

Video: Pavelski says 'time for production' on power play

"We've got to find a way better way to get better starts right now."

So are these poor starts indicative of things going wrong in preparation for games. Montgomery has stressed since he took over as head coach last season that preparation is the key to performance. He has juggled taking days off with using video with pushing his players hard in practice. In recent days, his coaches were coaching individuals and groups to stress details.

"I think it comes down to preparation," Montgomery said. "Right now, I find habits and details in the first half of the year is the most important thing that dictates teams that manage the games well. We haven't done a good job of managing games. It's an area where we drastically need to improve."

Stars defenseman Jamie Oleksiak has taken steps forward this season, and said he believes one of the keys is he has learned how to prepare better for each game.

"The thing about consistency is not so much what you do in the game, but what you do the day before a game," Oleksiak said. "It's an accumulation of things, nutrition, taking care of the body, being prepared. If you do that, then it's easier when you get on the ice to just trust your instincts and your preparation."

Video: Seguin: Stars taking 'playoff mentality' on road trip

The Stars believe they are doing that, but they might have to review their procedures again. Montgomery continues to shuffle lines when his team gets behind, which has been most games. Dallas has allowed the first goal in four out of six contests. That just increases the pressure and makes it difficult to stay composed and on message.

Still, these are desperate times. Dallas starts a four-game road trip Monday at Buffalo and has games against Columbus, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia after that.

"It's playoff mode for us," Radek Faksa said. "We need to step up, because teams are winning and it's so hard to catch those teams later on. We have to have a really good road trip, get at least three wins and doesn't matter if we win 2-1 or 1-0, we have to just win games."

Seguin said that while fans and players will point to St. Louis coming back from being last in the league to win the Stanley Cup last season, that is not how the NHL usually works.

"Everyone in here, including myself, needs to have a playoff mentality going on this road trip," Seguin said. "Everyone knows that a St. Louis season doesn't happen every year. It just doesn't happen. So, if we think that we can get into those shoes and you know … we're too good of a team to be playing this bad so far to start the year."

 

Stars (1-4-1) at Sabres (4-0-1)

Monday, 2 p.m. CT

Where: KeyBank Center, Buffalo, N.Y.

TV: FOX Sports Southwest

Radio: The Ticket 1310-AM, 96.7-FM

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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