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Stars struggling to find proper motivation, execution

Montgomery called Dallas' lack of consistency 'frustrating' after a gut-punch loss to the Blues - its third in four games

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

There is a difference between patience and passivity.

There is difference between calm and careless.

There is difference between prepared and presumptuous.

And right now, the Stars can't seem to find it.

As this team tries to find an identity that is smart and defensive and relentless, it seems to slip into areas where it simply doesn't know who it is or who it wants to be. For the second game in a row -- and really for the umpteenth time this season -- Dallas was outhustled, outsmarted and outplayed in a game where players were given a direct game plan beforehand and failed to execute it.

Video: Montgomery: Stars must 'look in mirror' after loss

Stars coach Jim Montgomery took aside lines at morning skate and laid out the importance of a second game against the St. Louis Blues in five days. Dallas won 3-1 on Tuesday in St. Louis, but the Blues were playing on the second night of a back-to-back with travel. This time, Montgomery stressed, the team would be prepared and motivated.

And the players heard, but didn't respond.

St. Louis walked in, controlled the game, and took a confident 3-1 victory at American Airlines Center. It was a baffling evening for the first-year coach, who has been trying hard to find the right emotional buttons to push.

"It's frustrating," Montgomery said. "I'm very frustrated that I haven't been able to gain consistency in our performance and I haven't been able to change the culture of mediocrity."

Yikes. That is a determined rookie taking a great deal of responsibility for not being able to do some things that he fully believes he can do. But it's also a pretty strong statement about how the players aren't pulling their share.

Video: Spezza says Stars 'have to stick to the process'

Why does a coach feel such a burden to get his team ready? Why haven't previous attempts worked? Why is being intense and detailed and engaged such an arduous ask for this group of players?

Center Jason Spezza has had some strong games during this stretch, and was again one of the leaders Saturday, but he said it's a balance between everyone helping everyone and each player doing his part.

"It falls on the individuals," Spezza said when asked about the lettered leadership group that includes Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, John Klingberg and himself. "It's pro hockey, it's not, 'Rah rah, get everybody going.' You have to zone in on yourself, you have to work on your own routines, you have to do what works best for you. And if it's not working, you've got to change something.

"A little bit falls on the leadership group, but a lot falls on individuals."

Especially when it seems so obvious what's needed.

Video: STL@DAL: Condra taps in goal from the doorstep

The Stars were coming off a game in Philadelphia where they lost to the worst team in the league and seemed to lack emotion for much of the performance. So after a day off Friday and a seemingly good morning skate Saturday, there was a pretty simple focus against the Blues.

"We wanted a quick start, because we knew that they were going to be desperate," Spezza said. "We just beat them in St, Louis, so the reality was we were going to see their best game. That was a desperate hockey team and we didn't match their intensity to start the game, and that's why we got behind."

The Blues scored 34 seconds in on a fantastic shot from Vladimir Tarasenko, and that was a shocker, but St. Louis was simply the better team throughout the first period. They were relentless, they were smart, they were organized. Meanwhile, the Stars threw pucks around the neutral zone as if this was a preseason game, earning an astounding 32 giveaways on the stat sheet (the Blues had 12). Benn finished with three giveaways, which is a large number for an NHL game, but if he was being given turnovers in an NBA game, he would have easily had double-digits.

It was the fourth straight poor performance for the captain since returning from an upper-body injury, and it was just one more contributing factor in this 1-3-0 stretch.

"I thought there was no rhyme or reason to some of the decisions we made out there tonight," Montgomery said.

Video: Klingberg frustrated after Stars' loss to Blues

When asked if he has pondered a timeout to motivate his team, Montgomery said he has tried a lot of things.

"I have done that approach of a timeout … and sometimes, you feel like that's the appropriate message," he said. "Sometimes, you tell the captains. There have been some times, after a horrible period, where it's their room. 'You guys need to bring it forth.' Unfortunately, there have been too many times where we have to think about how to motivate these guys.

"That's a problem in and of itself that we have had to do that so many times this year already."

It's frustrating for a lot of people, especially the fans.

On one hand, all of the teams around the Stars in the standings lost Saturday, so they still sit in a good spot. On the other, the Stars are wasting points and endangering a chance to make sure they are a postseason team for just the third time in 11 seasons.

Video: STL@DAL: Bishop denies Schwartz on the rush

Bottom line, everyone knows they can be better.

"Hopefully, it's a lesson learned," Spezza said.

The problem is it's a lesson that seems to come up quite a bit with this group.

"Our game plan wasn't executed and that's my fault for not getting the message through," Montgomery said. "The last two games have been a real gut punch for me, personally, because I just don't think I am being able to get across how we are supposed to execute. The more important part is, never mind the execution, the effort can overcome a lot of the mistakes, but there is not the effort there right now to overcome mistakes."

And that should be a gut punch to the entire organization.

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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