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'We never responded': Stars' room for error shrinking after shutout loss

Dallas is unable to recover from Bishop's third-period mistake as its scoring woes continue against the Penguins

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

DALLAS -- The Stars made a mistake Saturday night.

They didn't have room for it.

Of course, you can't play flawless hockey, and every team has to be able to bounce back from a poor decision, a fumbled puck, a botched recovery. It's hockey, right? But the Stars sure are redefining the statement "no margin for error."

Ben Bishop misplayed a puck behind his own net with the score tied 0-0 in the third period at American Airlines Center. Pittsburgh crashed the net, Bishop flopped backward on the puck and tried to trap it underneath himself. Instead, he knocked it to the Penguins' Dominik Kahun, who jammed it into the goal.

Dallas was down 1-0 with 12:31 left to play, and a little while later was sitting on the short end of a 3-0 loss.

"It was kind of an unfortunate goal," Bishop said. "You obviously don't want to make a mistake behind the net, but then when you make the save I felt pretty relieved. But, sure enough, it went underneath me right on his stick. Just an unfortunate play and sometimes it happens."

It was disheartening, because the Stars played some of their best hockey of the season in the first two periods. They held the Penguins to 11 shots on goal and created twice as many scoring chances as Pittsburgh. They had a 48-28 advantage in SAT (shot attempts at even strength) and seemed to be dominating the game.

Video: PIT@DAL: Montgomery breaks down shutout loss to Pens

It was a continuation of the play that had led them on a three-game winning streak, and it was a great answer against a Pittsburgh team that beat them a week earlier.

And yet …

The Stars couldn't score. They couldn't take all of their hard work and turn it into tangible evidence of good play on the scoreboard. They couldn't create any cushion at all, any room for mistakes. And so when adversity rose up, they tripped and fell … and fell again.

Until what appeared like a really nice stepping stone turned into a moss-covered rock in a creek of cold water.

"You make your own bounces," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said of Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray stopping all 25 shots. "Murray was good, but we have plays to be made and we're not putting them right on the tape where you can put them home."

Y'know, all of this wouldn't seem so bad if the Stars hadn't started the season 1-7-1. But they did. They didn't react to adversity well coming out of camp, and then didn't react to it well when they were in the middle of it.

They found a way to right the ship a little by winning three straight, but that only goes so far. With this loss, they are 4-8-1 now after 13 games. They need to win four straight just to get to the NHL's version of .500 -- and we all know that .500 doesn't get you into the playoffs in the NHL.

Video: PIT@DAL: Bishop on tough third period, Stars' defeat

That means if they win the next four, they are simply back to ground zero in their quest to make the post-season for the fourth time in a span of seven years. That sounds tough, doesn't it? They have not really met high expectations for several seasons, and that creates stress. They have not started well this season, and that creates stress. They are not scoring near enough goals, and that creates stress.

It is what it is, as they say in the NHL.

They are sitting in a stewing pot of stress, and the only way to get out of it is to be better -- to rise above it, to become a team.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are having a challenging start to their own season. They are missing a few of their best players in Evgeni Malkin and Alex Galchenyuk. They were just getting Bryan Rust and Nick Bjugstad back from injuries. They were without Sidney Crosby to start the third period as he was out with an injury before returning.

They were in the middle of a three-game losing streak.

And how did they react? They came out and buried the Stars early in shots on goal and eventually forced the mistake from Bishop. They finished with a 16-3 advantage in shots on goal in the third period and a 30-9 advantage in SAT. They dominated the game, in large part because they seemed to want it more.

At the very least, they showed they can handle the stress and react the right way.

Video: DAL Recap: Stars shut out by Murray, Penguins

"You saw the team that has won two Stanley Cups and their mindset to start to third," Montgomery said. "And they didn't have their best player. Crosby was in the locker room still, and they came out and shoved it right down our throat.

"We never recovered. We never responded."

So, what now will be the response to that revelation? We'll find out Monday at practice in McKinney or Tuesday when they face the similarly struggling Minnesota Wild. But the bottom line here is the Stars don't have a lot of room for many more bad responses.

They don't have room to be just OK. They don't have room to be the team that's on the wrong side of key moments.

Ben Bishop made a mistake Saturday. It cost his team a goal. He made a bunch of plays earlier in the game while handling the puck that probably saved some scoring chances against. He is going to play the puck behind the net, because he believes it's worth the risk.

But if the Stars continue down this path of scoring fewer than two goals a game, they really are giving themselves no margin for error.

And if that continues all season, then the stress level will only increase.

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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