If Thursday's overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings was a step back for the Dallas Stars, Saturday night's game was a leap back. The Stars rolled out their worst game of the young season in a 3-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at American Airlines Center.
"That was as flat as flat could be," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said.
"It was a really bad game," said Stars defenseman John Klingberg. "I don't know what to say. It was bad."
The Stars, who played their best game of the season in a 2-1 win at Nashville on Tuesday, have been lackluster in their past two games. It was a 4-3 overtime loss to the Kings on Thursday and then Saturday's loss to the Blue Jackets. The Stars are 2-2-1 on the season.
"There is no disguising it because there is some concern," Ruff said. "That's two games in a row where we were outskated. We don't get outskated very often."
Not much went right Saturday for the Stars, who had a hard time moving the puck and generating quality chances against a Columbus team that played the night before.
"I've never seen this team in two years move the puck so poorly," Ruff said. "Missed passes, bad passes, hang on too long. It was a collective effort. There's nothing to like about that game. I can understand the displeasure in the building. I was with them."
Ruff juggled his lines during the game and changed around his defense pairs, breaking up the top pairing of Klingberg and Dan Hamhuis.
"I am concerned about our whole defense," Ruff said. "We had a bad night on the backend. We had a bad night with puck movement. We had a bad night with our gap, and that allowed them to create a little bit of speed through the neutral zone on a couple of situations."
The power play wasn't much help. The Stars were 0-5
"We're not on the same page as a unit," said Klingberg. "We're too far away from each other and were thinking of these situations wrong. We are over-thinking too much."
The Blue Jackets, who defeated Chicago 3-2 in Columbus on Friday, improved to 2-2-0. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky stopped all 32 shots he faced, and Josh Anderson had one goal and one assist.
"The guys played great," Bobrovsky said. "They really stepped up, and no one could see that we were playing in the second night of a back-to-back. We played an even game, and the defense was really good. I think it was a great game for us."
After a scoreless first period, Columbus took advantage of a lucky break to take a 1-0 lead late in the second period. With Brett Ritchie carrying the puck into the zone on an odd-man rush, the puck hit an official, resulting in the Blue Jackets getting a four-on-two the other way and Andersson finished off a pretty passing play at the 16:04 mark.
"That's just a tough break," Ruff said. "That's all it is."
The Blue Jackets extended the lead to 2-0 at 9:02 of the third period when William Karlsson sent a pass from the corner to a wide-open Scott Hartnell, who beat Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen from close range.
The Stars then got back-to-back power plays, but couldn't take advantage. The best opportunity was a shorthanded breakaway by Columbus forward Cam Atkinson, who was awarded a penalty shot after Klingberg was penalized for throwing his stick at the puck. But Atkinson missed on the penalty shot and it stayed a 2-0 game.
The Stars pulled Lehtonen late in the game for the extra attacker, but Matt Calvert sealed the Columbus victory with an empty-net goal at the 18:48 mark.
Now, the Stars will try to put this one behind them and move forward.
"This isn't about yelling and screaming and talking about all the bad plays we made," Ruff said, "it's about trying to get them to play the game the right way, and we'll get rewarded for it."
Hockey Fights Cancer
Saturday was the annual Hockey Fights Cancer night for the Stars, and play-by-play man Dave Strader was a focus. Strader was diagnosed this summer with cholangiocarcinoma, a fairly rare and aggressive form of cancer. Strader's son, Trevor, sang the national anthem and took part in the ceremonial puck drop.
Video messages from broadcasters around the country wishing Dave well were played throughout the game. And there was a video message from Dave himself, thanking fans for their support and telling them he was fighting to get back into the broadcast booth.
Video: Stars honor Dave Strader
*The Stars outshot the Blue Jackets 32-26. Columbus had a 65-64 edge in shot attempts.
*Tyler Seguin led the Stars with 5 shots on goal. Johnny Oduya led the Stars with 6 shot attempts.
*The Stars were 0-5 on the power play and 2-2 on the penalty kill.
*The Stars won 42 of 64 faceoffs (66 percent).
*Jason Spezza won 10 of 12 faceoffs (83 percent). Tyler Seguin won 8 of 10 (80 percent). Radek Faksa won 12 of 18 (67 percent).
*John Klingberg led the Stars with 24:39 of ice time.
*Gemel Smith played 8:39 in his NHL debut, had one blocked shot and won 3 of 7 faceoffs.
*Saturday's attendance was 18,532, the Stars' third sellout in three games this season.
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Jason Spezza
Lauri Korpikoski - Devin Shore - Brett Ritchie
Curtis McKenzie - Gemel Smith - Adam Cracknell
Dan Hamhuis - John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya - Stephen Johns
Patrik Nemeth - Jordie Benn
Scratched: Esa Lindell, Jamie Oleksiak
Injured: Patrick Eaves (lower body), Patrick Sharp (concussion-like symptoms), Jiri Hudler (illness), Cody Eakin (knee), Mattias Janmark (knee)
This story was not subject to 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.