The Stars got off to a strong start, playing a solid first period, but Nashville scored consecutive goals in the second period to take control of the game.
“It was our fourth game in six nights, and we knew we’d have to play smart. We played a great first period, and we didn’t play smart enough in the second,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “That gave [the Predators] some energy.”
The Stars who seemed to get the goals against to a reasonable number the past two games, sprung a leak Tuesday in allowing five. The Stars have surrendered 33 goals over their past seven games (4.7 per game) and have allowed five or more in four of them.
It was a rough night for Stars goaltender Antti Niemi, who was pulled midway through the game after allowing four goals on 18 shots. Kari Lehtonen finished the game and stopped 15 of 16 shots.
“We know [the goaltending] has got to be better,” Ruff said. "We're trying hard defensively to clean things up. There are lots of parts of our game. We have to better on the [penalty] kill. We’ve got to be better five-on-five.”
It was also a tough night for the Stars top line. Tyler Seguin was a minus-four, and Jamie Benn was a minus-three.
“I don’t think it was as bad as it looked. It was 18 guys playing pretty good hockey and then two guys who weren’t,” Benn said. “It’s just frustrating every time you step on the ice and get scored on. It’s embarrassing, and I think that’s where the frustration is building up.
“Our best players have to be our best players, and our best players have to play the right way every night. It’s getting old now, but it all starts in the defensive end. When you’re not playing the right way, or you’re having a tough time out there, you have to work harder and find a way to dig yourself out of that hole.”
Antoine Roussel had one goal and one assist for the Stars. Vernon Fiddler and Jason Spezza also scored. The Stars (38-20-7) fell to 0-3-1 in their past four games. They are in a three-way tie with Chicago and St. Louis at 83 points in the Central Division, but the Stars rank second based on tiebreakers.
Shea Weber, back in the lineup after missing three games due to injury, recorded one goal and two assists for the Predators, who won their fifth straight game and ran their points streak to ten games (7-0-3). Nashville (32-21-11) holds the first wild-card spot in the West and has a seven-point lead over ninth-place Colorado.
“We have a long way to go here,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “We still have a quarter of the season left or just under that. We have a lot of hockey left. We got to continue to collect points right now and just stay focused on the day and not think about the past, not think too far ahead here.”
The Predators opened the scoring at 12:38 of the first period. A few seconds after making a nice keep at the blue line, Nashville center Mike Ribeiro centered the puck from behind the goal line to Craig Smith, who scored from close range.
Just ten seconds later, the Stars tied it on a nice individual effort by Roussel, who drove the net off the rush and stuffed the puck past Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne.
The Predators scored three straight goals in the second to build a 4-1 lead. Calle Jarnkrok deflected a James Neal shot past Niemi at the 1:35 mark to give Nashville a 2-1 lead. Weber scored on a slap shot with the Predators on a power play to make it 3-1 at 9:17 of the period. And 31 seconds later, Mattias Ekholm scored off a backhand shot to put Nashville up 4-1 and ended the night for Niemi, who was replaced by Lehtonen.
The Stars went on a five-on-three power play late in the period and cashed in on the two-man advantage when Spezza scored on the rebound of a Jamie Benn shot to cut the lead to 4-2 at the 16:28 mark. But the Stars couldn’t cash in on the remaining five-on-four, and they went into the third period down by two goals.
The Predators extended the lead to 5-2 at 5:37 of the third when Weber sent a cross-ice pass to Neal, who scored off a one-timer from the right circle. Fiddler scored from distance at the 10:30 mark to cut the Nashville lead to 5-3, but the Stars couldn’t get any closer.
Stars forward Patrick Sharp left Tuesday's game late in the second period with an undisclosed injury and did not return. His status moving forward is still unclear.
“He had a little injury [Monday] night, decided he could go and couldn’t get through the game tonight,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “[His status] is up in the air. It’s something that he could be OK for Friday or he could miss a few games.”
Defenseman Kris Russell made his Stars debut Tuesday night. He was paired with Jordie Benn and played 18:21, registering two shots on goal, one hit, one blocked shot and a minus-one rating.
“I thought he played well,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “I thought he moved the puck well. I thought that pair was really good for us, so I think that was a great first showing.”
The Star acquired Russell from Calgary just prior to Monday’s trade deadline.
“I was just trying to get accustomed to it. It felt good,” Russell said. “I was talking to [Jordie] Benn a lot. Whenever you’re playing with someone, you want to have good communication. I thought we did pretty well with that. Obviously, you want to help your team win, and there are things we can work on. I’m trying to get better with this team.”
*The Stars are 4-3-3 in the second game of back-to-backs this season.
*The Stars are 10-12-4 since the beginning of the new year.
*The Stars outshot the Predators 38-34 and had a 65-60 advantage in shot attempts.
*Tyler Seguin led the Stars with five shots on goal. Jason Demers led Dallas with seven shot attempts.
*The Stars were 1-3 on the power play and 3-4 on the penalty kill.
*The Stars have allowed eight power-play goals over the past eight games and are 23-31 (74.2 percent) on the penalty kill during that stretch.
*The Stars won 37 of 79 faceoffs (47 percent).
*Vernon Fiddler won 10 of 15 faceoffs (67 percent). Jamie Benn won 6 of 9 (67 percent). Tyler Seguin won 5 of 10 (50 percent). Jason Spezza won 8 of 18 (44 percent). Cody Eakin won 6 of 20 (30 percent).
*Alex Goligoski led the Stars with 25:05 of ice time.
The Stars return home to take on the New Jersey Devils Friday at American Airlines Center. This game will kick off a stretch of three straight against Eastern Conference teams. The Stars also play at Ottawa and Montreal.
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Patrick Sharp
Mattias Janmark – Jason Spezza – Valeri Nichushkin
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Ales Hemsky
Radek Faksa – Vernon Fiddler – Colton Sceviour
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya – Jason Demers
Kris Russell – Jordie Benn
Injured: Patrick Eaves (illness)
Scratched: Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak, Travis Moen
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.