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Opening loss to Blues shows Stars there's work to do

Dallas will need to be more relentless after coming out flat in its first preseason game

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

DALLAS -- If nothing else, the Stars learned after their first preseason game Monday that they have a lot of work to do.

When coach Jim Montgomery and his staff are grading this pop quiz, there are going to be a lot of failing grades, and a lot of red ink. And that's sort of surprising.

"We were hoping to see a lot more pace and a lot more emotion in us. We didn't have a lot of it," Montgomery said of a 2-0 loss in which the Stars were outshot 33-22. "St. Louis did a real good job getting pucks on the goal and outnumbering us on the goal line on both ends of the ice."

In their own self-assessment, the Stars believe they have improved their depth. If that's the case, shouldn't that show in the preseason? The other team is using its total roster, you're using your total roster … you should be better.

Likewise, the Stars really believe they are going to be better at the details of the game this year. That's been the focus in the three-day training camp. That's been the focus in Traverse City.

And yet, the Blues were better.

"Obviously it's preseason, but it was not very good, to be honest," said veteran forward Andrew Cogliano. "There's a lot of new faces on both teams, and usually the teams that play simple, play hard and out-compete the other team usually win, and I thought they did that tonight. Hopefully, we get better as the camp goes on and the preseason games get going."

Video: Monty on "competitive spirit" of first preseason game

Now, if you want to get down to strategy and explanations, the Blues had a bigger team and they wore down the Stars and controlled the puck. It was very similar to what they did in Games 6 and 7 in the playoffs last season, so there are some natural matchup issues that come into play.

Bottom line, this might just be a tough draw for the Stars no matter who is on the ice.

But one of the things that was lacking Monday was hunger. There was little intensity, little bravado, little arrogance. This is a team that has 11 forward positions locked up -- 10 if you want to ponder a season opener without Corey Perry (fractured bone in his foot). That means there are lineup positions on the line here, and the battle so far to claim them has been tepid.

"I would say I was disappointed that no one took a step forward," Montgomery said.

Riley Tufte made a strong statement in Traverse City and followed with a few flashes against the Blues, but he fumbled a couple of scoring chances Monday and just looks like he needs some time in the AHL. Ty Dellandrea carried over some of the positive momentum from his strong performance in Michigan, but looked outsized by the big Blues at times.

Plano native Stefan Noesen was fine, but didn't stand out. Nick Caamano was improved, but also couldn't finish his scoring chances. Jason Robertson looks like he simply is playing the same cautious game he played in Traverse City.

Joel Kiviranta, the 23-year-old from Finland, probably stood out the most. Montgomery said he would give Kiviranta a three on a 1-to-5 grading scale the coaching staff uses. That's "acceptable," and it says a lot when Kivirantra was considered one of the best forwards.

Video: Noesen relishes suiting up for Stars against Blues

To be fair, it's tough to judge these guys. They have been on the ice for three days, they were thrown together in some odd combinations, and they were trying to find energy in an environment that was sort of lacking.

But that's where they are right now, and that's what they have to grade on.

What's worse, they play another preseason game in Minnesota Tuesday, and another in Denver Thursday, and another in Tulsa Saturday. This part of the preseason is a bit disjointed, with practices and film sessions being done with different groups and different members of the coaching staff. The learning will have to come on the fly, but that's the same for every team.

If the Stars really believe they have better depth, they need to show it. If they really believe they will be more relentless, more speedy, more detailed, they will have to work … and work hard.

If Monday's 2-0 loss showed anything, it's that there is plenty of work to do before the season opener Oct. 3.

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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