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Burnside: Five takeaways from Stars' road loss in St. Louis

Following back-to-back defeats to open the season, Dallas is still working to get on track

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

ST. LOUIS -- If they end up making a movie of the first weekend of the National Hockey League season for the Dallas Stars, they might go with something like 'Arrrggggh' for a title after the Stars dropped their second straight game of this still-oh-so-young season, 4-2, to the St. Louis Blues.

Here's what we saw, learned and thought after a forgettable Saturday night in Missouri.

Video: DAL@STL: Janmark jams home a shot from the doorstep

 

1. Period to forget

If we agree that the Stars' follow-up to their disappointing 2-1 loss Friday at home to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights represented an early test of their resolve, and their belief, in new head coach Ken Hitchcock's systems, then not much question about how to grade a first period that saw the Stars give up three goals on three successive shots in exactly five minutes in the middle of the opening frame.

Talk about a buzzkill.

The first two were scored by Blues defensemen, with both Carl Gunnarsson and Joel Edmundson jumping into the play, which seemed to create problems defensively for the Stars. Of the Blues' first nine goals, five have been scored by defenders. That's two more than the Stars' entire offensive output.

"We had a great start to the game," head coach Ken Hitchcock said. "First 10 or 12 minutes was exactly what we wanted. But when there's sustained pressure in our zone, we started to really over-pursue and made some mistakes. I don't think our competitive composure on the boards was what we want in our own zone either. Those are things that we have to work on. We showed some flashes and then we showed some back to the drawing board stuff too."

Video: Hitchcock on rough start to season

 

2. Rough 24 hours for Kari Lehtonen

Must admit, we were a bit surprised when Hitchcock announced that Lehtonen would start Saturday's game after Lehtonen had been pressed into service four minutes into the third period of Friday's loss, and gave up Vegas's two goals.

Not surprised because Lehtonen had been at fault for the Vegas loss, but surprised because starter Ben Bishop had been sharp in stopping all 19 shots he'd faced, and had been cleared to play Saturday after being knocked out of commission Friday by a Reilly Smith shot to the face.

But Hitchcock said they would stay to the team's original plan, which was to have Lehtonen play the second of back-to-backs to start the season. Fair enough.

It's a good storyline had Lehtonen come up large and helped the Stars even their record, reinforcing that the plan is the plan and the plan will work. And not to suggest Lehtonen is the goat in the loss to St. Louis, but when you give up three goals on three straight shots, it does tend to suck the life out of you.

"It's not a good feeling when they come that close to each other," said Lehtonen, who has now allowed six goals on 32 shots in less than four periods of play.

"You know you have to reset and refocus and keep playing," he said. "It's just part of the game. Today, that happened and of course you don't want to see that but you just keep need to keep going there's still 40-some minutes left. No need to quit."

It's not just the goals, but the timing.

After the Stars scored early in the third on a John Klingberg power-play blast, Lehtonen was beaten on a St. Louis power play by a terrific Vladimir Tarasenko shot to make it 4-1, Blues, and basically eliminate any chance of a comeback.

Bottom line: For the second straight night, the Stars have lost the goaltending battle. Hindsight being what it is, you wonder had Bishop started and made stops on any of those three shots that ended up in the Stars net, does it change the complexion of the game?

A mug's game to be sure but Hitchcock was terse when asked about Lehtonen's work thus far.

"You know, you're dealt with by wins and losses so he's had a tough start," Hitchcock said. 

Video: Methot discusses challenges facing Stars

 

3. Where's the depth?

As was the case Friday night, the Stars' big line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov generated the bulk of the team's prime scoring opportunities. And like Friday, when Marc-Andre Fleury was sensational for his new teammates from Vegas, Blues netminder Jake Allen owned the net on this night stopping all but two of 40 Dallas shots.

Allen robbed Benn late in the first period with a highlight reel glove save, and then kicked out a dangerous shot seconds later to keep the score 3-0. That line, while confounded by a lack of finish early in the season, should be fine. But the beauty of this lineup as constituted (or imagined) is that Hitchcock can ice three other lines that should be difficult to play against at both ends of the ice.

That hasn't happened.

The team's second line of Jason Spezza, Mattias Janmark and Brett Ritchie has been very quiet through two games, although they did score the team's only even-strength goal to date on a nice feed from Spezza to Janmark late in the third period.

Martin Hanzal has yet to exert his influence, although that may still be a function of an ankle injury sustained before camp started (see below). Regardless, when you score three goals in two games -- one at even strength -- there's lots of room for improvement. But it would be unfair to suggest that the early season woes lie solely at the feet of the team's big guns.

As Hitchcock noted, issues with generating chances and issues with finishing. That about sums it up.

"I thought we played a little bit better in that second and third but we can't score," said veteran defenceman Marc Methot, one of a quartet of key new additions to the Dallas roster. "You've got to score goals right? And you're not going to win any games when you get one through almost two full games, so that's the reality right now. We're facing that."

Video: Spezza on tough back-to-back

 

4. Patience, grasshopper

Yes, it's been a grisly start to the season, but once again -- perspective.

The Stars, apart from that five-minute wobble, were the better team for most of the night. Yes, a scoring binge does change how a team approaches the game, and the Blues could afford to sit back as they did for much of the last two periods. But after the first period, the Stars allowed just 12 shots. They allowed only two St. Louis power plays, although the Blues did score on the second of those. Still better than the seven man-advantage opportunities Vegas had Friday.

The challenge as the team prepares for home dates this week with surprising Detroit (2-0-0) and Colorado (1-1-0), and on the road in Nashville, is not freaking out and believing in the system and message that Hitchcock and his staff are imparting.

"We're committed to what Hitch wants us to do," Spezza said. "It's a process. It's a different way than we're used to playing but it's a way that we believe is going to work for us. We're fully committed to playing the way he wants us to play the game. We just have to get better at it. It's going to take work in practice."

Video: DAL@STL: Klingberg buries a PPG through traffic

 
5. Hanzal banged up

Speaking of Hanzal, the big center left the game in the second period for medical evaluation, and although it initially appeared he would return to action, he did not.

Hitchcock described him as suffering a lower-body injury and that he would be evaluated further on Sunday with the team back at home in Dallas.

Hanzal played 6 minutes, 14 seconds in the first but just two minutes in the second period and none in the third.

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott Burnside on Twitter @OvertimeScottB and listen to his Burnside Chats podcast here.

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