After giving up 11 goals in their previous two games, the Dallas Stars were hoping to tighten things up defensively as they began a three-game road trip Monday night. They didn’t. The Stars gave up a season-high number of goals in a 7-3 loss to the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.
“Probably the most disappointing [game] of the whole year,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “We were outskated, we couldn’t win one-on-one battles. They looked how we usually look. Their legs were better, their energy level was better, their puck management was better. That might have been our worst game of the year.”
The Stars have lost three straight games for the first time this season, and have been outscored 18-8.
“There were six or seven games where we did really well. We were the team with the speed and that caused problems for their guys. Now that has changed the past couple games,” said Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who stopped 36 of 43 shots.
Turnovers and defensive coverage were issues again Monday night. The Islanders outshot the Stars 43-23.
“We had a pretty decent first period and then we came out in the second and turned some pucks over and gave them some odd-man opportunities and some chances,” said Stars defenseman Trevor Daley, who returned to the lineup after missing 14 games with a high-ankle sprain. “We hung Kari out to dry and we couldn’t regroup from it.”
The Stars had a 2-0 lead after the first period, but the Islanders blitzed them after that, outscoring the Stars 4-1 in the second and 3-0 in the third. John Tavares had three goals and two assists for the Islanders, who won for the fourth time in their last five games.
"It's just something to build on," Tavares said. "We're going to have a tough test [Tuesday in Toronto], a team that is looking to bounce back after a few days off. We know we're going to have to be ready to play and we can't just dwell on this one and think it's going to be easy. “
Lehtonen was sharp in the first period for the Stars, turning away all 14 shots he faced. He came up big 47 seconds into the game, getting a piece of a Thomas Vanek blast from the left circle.
The Stars scored 5:01 into the game to take the early lead. Jamie Benn picked off a Matt Donovan pass deep in the Islanders zone and then roofed a shot over New York goaltender Evgeni Nabokov from the right circle.
Nabokov got dinged up during a scramble in the crease at the 11:33 mark, but stayed in the game briefly before leaving and being replaced by Kevin Poulin.
The Stars made it a 2-0 game a short time later scoring on the first shot on Poulin. After a faceoff win by Rich Peverley, Erik Cole scored from the slot at the 13:48 mark.
But Poulin would allow only one goal the rest of the way, stopping 13 of 15 shots in the game.
"I thought he responded really well," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said.
Things turned around for the Islanders in the second period. They scored three straight goals over the first half of the period to take the lead.
The Islanders went on a power play early in the period and cashed in to cut the Stars’ lead to 2-1 when Ryan Strome scored off a rebound for his first NHL goal at the 1:41 mark.
The Islanders tied the game at 7:29 of the second when Peverley fanned on a pass in front of the Dallas net and Vanek set up Tavares, who tapped the puck in from close range to make it a 2-2 game.
New York kept up the pressure and took the lead two minutes after tying the game. Josh Bailey centered the puck and Peter Regin scored from close range to put the Islanders up 3-2 at 9:29 of the second.
The Stars went on a power play with six-and-a-half minutes left in the second and scored to tie the game when Peverley put a shot on net from close range and Valeri Nichushkin backhanded the rebound past Poulin to make it a 3-3 game with 4:32 remaining in the second.
The Islanders bounced back in to take a 4-3 when Brock Nelson picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone, skated into the Dallas zone, turned Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski around and ripped the puck past Lehtonen with 27.5 seconds left in the second.
The Islanders extended their lead to 5-3 early in the third period. Tavares got a puck in the neutral zone, skated into the Dallas zone and backhanded the puck to Brian Strait, who scored from the slot 1:24 at the 1:24 mark.
The Stars came close to making it a 5-4 game, but a Jordie Benn shorthanded bit hit the crossbar. Moments later the Islanders had a 6-3 lead. Tavares drove the net along the goal line and backhanded the puck past Lehtonen 6:19 into the third. Tavares scored his third of the night with the Islanders on a five-on-three power play, tallying off a blast from the slot to make it a 7-3 game and cap off a miserable night for the Stars.
"For me it started in the second period with the one-on-one battles, the 50-50 pucks; we didn't win those battles," Ruff said. "I think the thing that I noticed was Daley looked the freshest of everybody and he's the guy who hasn't been playing. You factor where our team has been at with sickness and everything, and maybe we need a couple of days to recover because there hasn't been a game where we looked this slow, moved the puck this slow and not been able to catch guys from behind. It was embarrassing, it was tough and we’ve got to put it behind us.”
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.