Video: Stars can't get greasy enough against Pens
1. Not so much the points, but the manner in which they were squandered
Hey, no one was really expecting the Stars to go 6-0 on this road trip. That's not realistic. But playing against a Pittsburgh team that was coming off a demoralizing loss the night before in Toronto, and facing a young netminder in Casey DeSmith -- who has had some ups and downs of late -- the Stars were simply not sharp enough in a host of areas to steal a game that was there for the stealing.
They gave the dynamic Pittsburgh power play five opportunities on Sunday night, all through the first two periods, including three chances in the second period with the Penguins holding a 2-0 lead.
You can't do that.
And even if the Pens scored just once with the man advantage -- the opening goal of the game shortly after Marc Methot had been called for cross-checking -- the flurry of penalties cut into time the Stars needed to try and play catchup.
Of the five minors, not one would be classified a "good" penalty. Tyler Pitlick flattened Jake Guentzel with a cross-check in the first minutes of the second period. Alexander Radulov took an offensive-zone tripping penalty with less than three minutes to go in the second. And Greg Pateryn was whistled for a cross-check after the whistle had blown following a Kari Lehtonen save off Sidney Crosby.
"We talked before the game about keeping it 5-on-5 and the skill they have over there if you give them power plays," said Jason Spezza, who drew the primary assist on a 5-on-3 goal by Radulov that stood as the lone marker for the Stars on this night.
"Even if they don't score, they get confidence from them they get momentum by just touching the puck and getting the feel of the game. So, I think it was frustrating second period to take all the penalties. I think that's inevitably what hurt us. We couldn't get anything going 5-on-5."
"We knew that they played last night, and we want to be on top of them, but those (are the) little things that kind of decide the game," Radulov said. "When we were like on top of them, we would take penalties and momentum would go away. That's what happened."
Video: Stars can't complete comeback in Pittsburgh
2. 'A recipe for losing hockey'
A searing indictment from Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock on the approach to offense by Dallas in general, and specifically, the team's offensive leaders.
Dallas finished with 18 shots on goal on the night, and while you can give the Penguins full marks for a solid checking game, Hitchcock said the Stars lack the will to make more offense happen.
"I don't think this is anything different than the last five games, to be honest with you," he said. "It's not we don't generate 5-on-5 -- we have the opportunity to generate, we want to make the next play. We don't want to do the hard stuff to score. We don't want to put it into the areas that we need to, we don't want to put it on the net and pick it up from there. We want to make the next play, so in the offensive zone, you end up playing sideways. And when you play sideways, maybe once in a while, you might look good. But I think with the way teams dial down the checking at this time of year, we're not effective, and it starts with our top players.
"Our top players look, at times, (like) they're waiting to go on the power play. That's how they play. When you're not willing to put it into the greasy areas and go into there, and, in essence, dumb it down offensively so you can create more second and third opportunities, then you just stay on the perimeter, and that's what we've been doing.
"We're on the perimeter, 5-on-5, waiting to go on the power play. That's a recipe for losing hockey."
How difficult has it been for the Stars? Once in the last five games have they scored more than two goals.
Video: DAL@PIT: Radulov buries sharp-angle shot for PPG
3. Who's Hitchcock talking about?
Well, you don't need to search too far to figure that when Hitchcock is talking about the team's top players, he's talking about captain Jamie Benn and top center Tyler Seguin, along with Radulov and defenseman John Klingberg.
Benn and Seguin combined for nine shot attempts on the night. Compare that to Friday's come-from-behind win over Anaheim when the Stars scored twice on the power play in the third to secure the win. Benn had 10 shot attempts and scored the game-winner on a nice deflection of a Klingberg point shot. Seguin had 12 shot attempts and set up the tying goal with a terrific pass in the slot to Devin Shore, who redirected the puck into the net.
None of that stuff was happening Sunday night, either at even strength or when the Stars were on the power play -- save for the long 5-on-3 that netted the only goal.
On a night when the Penguins were uncharacteristically sloppy, the Stars simply couldn't capitalize.
It wasn't just the big boys. Pitlick had a break in the second period on a weird Pittsburgh line change, but DeSmith made the stop. Mattias Janmark, who continues to be hampered by playing with a cage, had a good chance after intercepting a pass in the Pittsburgh zone in the first, but he couldn't turn that into a shot on net.
And so it went.
"When you want to make the next play, and you want to play sideways, this is what you get: nothing," Hitchcock said.
How do you address it?
"Eventually, you have to become desperate enough that you want to play the right way offensively," he said.
Video: DAL@PIT: Lehtonen denies Guentzel in front
4. A call for assistance
For the second time in three games, the Stars have received stellar netminding from Lehtonen and responded by providing him only token run support.
The Stars were shut out last Tuesday in Nashville, 2-0, behind a wonderful 32-save performance by Lehtonen before bouncing back for the win over Anaheim and dropping Sunday's decision, allowing two goals on 29 shots.
The first goal was a Patric Hornqvist power-play marker, as noted. And the second came after a series of weak efforts to clear the puck in the waning seconds of the first period failed and former Dallas defender Jamie Oleksiak ripped a shot over Lehtonen's catching glove with 3.4 seconds left to stake Pittsburgh to a 2-0 lead.
"It's a tough goal," Spezza admitted. "The first period's pretty even scoring-chance-wise, and they score at the end. We have a couple of chances to get it out, we don't. But we had lots of game to make up for it. Made it 2-1, had lots of opportunities to try to tie the game up.
"But obviously, yeah, you don't want to get down two heading into any intermission."
Lehtonen was philosophical, as is his want, about not being able to find a way to get at least a point to kick off the road trip before the team headed off to Montreal.
"It's always disappointing to not get points at this time of the year. It doesn't matter if it's first game of the road trip or whatnot," Lehtonen said. "Just we played, like, careless, I thought. Two periods, and too many penalties. That's a pretty good team. You give them opportunities that they don't create by themselves -- that's dangerous way to play. But we were hanging in there, and we were hoping for a comeback, but that didn't happen tonight."
Video: Spezza on loss in Pittsburgh
5. Tip of the cap to Forbes and more
Everything was set for a nice story on the heroics of Dallas video coach Kelly Forbes, whose quick thinking on a late second period Pittsburgh power play overturned what would have been a third Penguins goal on an offside challenge.
Sure enough, replays prompted by Forbes' quick assessment of the situation showed that Evgeni Malkin's one skate was in the air and the other in the Dallas zone when the puck entered the zone. And so, a second Hornqvist goal was erased and the Stars continued -- until Malkin's empty-netter in the final minute -- with just a one-goal deficit.
"It was a great call by our video guy, by Kelly. It was a great call and gave us a chance," Hitchcock said.
Only one Stars player, Radulov, had more than two shots on goal Sunday -- and he had three.
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Scott Burnside is a senior digital correspondent for DallasStars.com. You can follow him on Twitter @OvertimeScottB, and listen to his podcast.