ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The grind is real in the NHL.
The Stars just blew through a run of 11-0-1 and inched to within a breath of defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis for first place in the Central Division. And they wake up Monday morning seven points back of the Blues and in a mix with some red-hot teams who are trying to climb over the Stars in a game of "King of the Mountain."
That's how tough this season is going to be.
Dallas played a solid game Sunday afternoon against the Wild and fell 3-2 in the shootout. That puts them in an 0-2-1 slump. Meanwhile, the Wild is 6-1-3 in its past 10 games, and the Blues are on a three-game winning steak. Dallas will meet Winnipeg in the next two games, and the Jets are on an 7-3-0 roll. Colorado is getting healthy again. San Jose has recovered from its early season slump.
Video: DAL@MIN: Montgomery on Stars' shootout defeat
It's hard out there.
"That's hockey," said Stars captain Jamie Benn. "That's what's great about hockey."
The Stars have actually done a pretty good job of that for more than a month. Their loss in Chicago Tuesday was a hard-fought game in which they simply couldn't find a way to score. Their loss to the Blues Friday was an unfortunate confluence of making just the wrong play at just the wrong time, as they allowed a goal 18 seconds after tying the game in the third period.
On Sunday, the Stars battled back, took a third-period lead and then got caught on a questionable officiating call. Alexander Radulov went into the corner, got his arm wrapped up with a Wild player, and got whistled for holding.
Video: DAL@MIN: Comeau sneaks puck past Stalock to break tie
"I don't think that call was made earlier in the game several times," said Stars coach Jim Montgomery, trying to be diplomatic. "But we had, at that point, maybe one or two more power plays, and Minnesota was pressing. Sometimes, that happens."
The Stars also could have killed the penalty. They didn't. Zach Parise batted a rebound out of mid-air to tie the game with 2:30 remaining, and Dallas frittered away a second point in the standings in overtime and the shootout.
But that only dampened the spirit a little for Montgomery.
"I liked every part of our game," Montgomery said. "I liked our D-zone. I liked our breakouts. I thought we transitioned pucks really well. I thought we were skating well. It's the best we've skated in a while. And it was nice to see us respond after what we thought wasn't our best effort last game. We regrouped right away and came back with a real good effort."
Video: DAL@MIN: Benn says Stars must refocus after road loss
And that's the key to this grind thing. You can't get caught up in an eight-game stretch the way the Stars did earlier in the season. You have to put a stop to the dry spells, both in the standings and on the scoresheet. Getting a power play goal from John Klingberg was important. The same with getting a huge play for Comeau on the third period.
Moments like that show that the Stars can battle back.
But they also have no points from Joe Pavelski in eight games, and two from Tyler Seguin in the past five, and one from Jamie Benn in the past five. Each is behind his normal scoring pace. Each is working hard to get out.
Montgomery said before the game that he believes this team is creating better scoring chances than the 2018-19 Stars. He said he believes they will get their shooting percentage back to a more normal pace, and then they will start scoring four goals a game again like they did during their 11-0-1 run.
Video: DAL@MIN: Klingberg finds space, fires PPG from circle
Asked about Pavelski's eight-game run, Montgomery said: "I'm kind of shocked to see how many games it's been, because he is creating chances. Almost every night, he has five scoring chances."
Asked about the player's ability to get themselves out of a slump, Montgomery said: "I find the biggest difference when I'm looking at last year is we generate more chances, so when you generate more chances, you feel good about your game."
And the Stars feel pretty good about their game right now. They have had a chance to win any of the past three games. They could even kick themselves for a couple of bad shifts at key moments.
"I think we found a lot of positives," Montgomery said. "I thought Tyler Seguin was excellent at center again, I really liked that line. I liked all four lines. (Corey) Perry had his best game in a couple of games, so it's nice to see guys rebound and play the way we want to. It gives us a lot of confidence about what we can achieve."
Video: DAL@MIN: Comeau's late goal not enough as Stars fall
What they want to achieve is obviously a spot in the playoffs, but they also want to be better than they were last year. They feel on paper they are better. Now, they want to become that on the ice.
Playing against good teams who are in the middle of hot streaks can help raise the bar for the Stars.
"I think guys are excited about the challenge," said Comeau. "We knew at the start of the year our division was going to be a good division. Teams are starting to play well. You can see that everyone's starting to tighten up their checking. That's when we're at our best…when we're playing good defensive hockey and we're creating chances that way."
Now, they just have to get back to winning. They play the Jets in the next two games _ Tuesday at Winnipeg and Thursday in Dallas. Winnipeg sits ahead of the Stars by percentage points in the Central Division. Win both of these games, and you are helped a great deal.
Video: Stars can't tame the Wild in Minny
But quite honestly, winning now helps you next week, and next month, and in April. So you have to keep up the grind.
"You look at the standings, it's pretty tight," Benn said. "Every night is a battle. You're going to have your ups and your downs, and your wins and your losses. It's really who stays most consistent and who bounces back best from losses."
Now would be a good time to do that.
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.