DALLAS -- The Stars rank 27th overall in goal scoring and since Rick Bowness has taken over, they are 30th in 5-on-5 goals. It's something that was talked about a great deal over the winter break.
"We're a hard-working team, we're a good defensive team and we can win 2-1 games," the Stars' interim coach said. "But it gets very frustrating when you lose games 2-1. We know where we need to improve."
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The Stars went into the break on consecutive losses (4-1, 7-0) in which they had one even-strength goal. They had just two even-strength goals in the two games preceding that. While the power play has gone 8-for-22 in the past eight games, the Stars simply are not generating enough chances in 5-on-5 play.
"I think the power play has been a lot better, percentage-wise, and we're moving up a lot (in the rankings), and that's a real good thing, but then we need some help 5-on-5," said defenseman John Klingberg. "We need to hold onto pucks longer, we need more puck possession, and we need to understand when we need to put it deep and establish pressure that way. I also think it needs to come from individuals, and we need to work on that."
Video: TBL@DAL: Klingberg on generating more scoring chances
Stars captain Jamie Benn said that both the team and the individuals are focused on increasing goal-scoring. While the top line of Alexander Radulov (13 goals), Benn (12 goals) and Tyler Seguin (11 goals) are among the team leaders (Roope Hintz is first with 15 goals), each would like to improve on that pace in the season's stretch run.
"You can talk all you want about it, but you need to go out there and work on it in practice, watch video, and find ways to score some goals," Benn said. "None of us are really having career years in here, but we know we can score. It's just about playing the right way and playing a good team game. We've done it before where we have scored four or five goals in a game, so we need to keep on working on it."
And while the coaches and players work to improve scoring, they still have to balance out doing that while maintaining their defensive style.
"The main thing is it comes down to winning games," Klingberg said. "We know our identity is playing really good defensively. We know we have two really good goalies, and obviously the whole team is really buying into playing good defensively. At the same time, it's really frustrating when you lose 2-1 and you feel like you have a lot of pressure and a lot of actual time to create more, but you don't. I think that's something we need to work on."
What to watch
Stephen Johns has not been a lineup regular since March of 2018. He has battled post-traumatic headaches and has fought to get back into the lineup. He played his first NHL game before the break -- a 7-0 loss at Minnesota-- and now is trying to stay in the lineup on a consistent basis.
He skated and worked out during the break and is hopeful he can simply start playing a lot of games.
"I'm looking at this like when I started playing in the NHL," Johns said. "Learning how to play the game, because I felt like when I got hurt I was at the top of my game, and I figured out how to be a steady defenseman in the NHL, and I think getting back to that point is going to take a little bit of time. But hopefully not too long."
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Bowness said he is going to be shuffling defensemen in and out of the lineup. Andrej Sekera will be a healthy scratch tonight and Roman Polak and Jamie Oleksiak are candidates for future scratches. But Bowness said Johns needs to play.
"We've got to be patient with him, we've got to give him a chance," Bowness said. "We've got to give him some time to find that rhythm and to find that timing and to find the confidence in his game, to move him back into that top four.
"The only way he's going to get that is to play. Is there going to be some rust and mistakes? Yeah. We're just going to have to guide him through it."
Video: TBL@DAL: Bowness on Bishop facing Vasilevskiy
Faksa, Heiskanen ready to return after injuries
Miro Heiskanen (concussion protocol) and Radek Faksa (upper-body injury) both missed the last game before the break. Bowness juggled his lines a great deal and said the team looked out of synch at Minnesota.
Tonight, both Heiskanen and Faksa will return, and the lineup will have a more regular look. Expect Faksa's line to get a lot of usage, and also expect Bowness to give Benn-Seguin-Radulov some big minutes on home ice.
Johns will play beside Oleksiak to start out with. Many are wondering if the Stars' coaching staff will put Johns with Heiskanen at some point.
Ben Bishop is expected to start against his old team. Bishop has a 1-2-1 career record against the Lightning with a 4.71 goals against average and .829 save percentage. Andre Vasilevskiy is expected to start for Tampa Bay. He is 5-0-2 with a 2.25 GAA and .925 save percentage against Dallas.
Video: DAL@TBL: Faksa wires home wrister from the slot
By the numbers
Despite the 7-0 loss in Minnesota, the Stars still rank first in goals against average (2.46) and first in save percentage (.922). Tampa Bay ranks third in scoring at 3.60.
Dallas is last in first-period scoring with 32 goals on the season. Tampa Bay is fourth with 52.
Lightning center Steven Stamkos has 22 points in 14 career games against the Stars, including 14 goals.
He said it
"It's pretty simple: Life is hell. … A couple of guys stayed back and watched us lose 7-0 in Minnesota, and I know exactly what they were thinking sitting on the couch watching. It sucks watching, it sucks not being a part of it. It's hell."
-- Johns talking about what it was like to sit out for a season and a half with post-traumatic headaches
Stars projected lineup
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Denis Gurianov - Joe Pavelski - Roope Hintz
Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Mattias Janmark - Jason Dickinson - Corey Perry
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Jamie Oleksiak - Stephen Johns
Scratched: C Justin Dowling, D Andrej Sekera, D Taylor Fedun
Injured: C Martin Hanzal (back)
Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Tampa Bay Lightning when they return home to American Airlines Center tonight at 7 p.m. Get your tickets now!
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.