After a good run against some of the top teams in the NHL, the Dallas Stars rolled out a clunker against the last-place team in the league, falling 6-3 to the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena.
“It was everything,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “Our team defense was probably the worst on the year. We started off not defending, we had pockets of good defending. It was a team loss. Everybody was in on it.”
The Stars allowed six goals Tuesday night after allowing just seven over their previous five games. The Stars continued a trend of struggling against teams at the bottom of the NHL standings.
“Obviously, we haven’t defended well against weaker teams,” Ruff said. “That’s on my shoulders. That is something that I have to correct.”
"For some reason we think we can come in against these weaker teams and outscore them, but that’s not how it works in this league,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “You've got to play good team defense.”
The Blue Jackets scored on the first shift of the game and had a 3-1 lead by the end of the first period, and the Stars could never catch up, cutting the lead to one twice only to see the Blue Jackets extend it again.
“[The Blue Jackets] had high expectations and have had a rough time, but that’s a good team,” said Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski. “We let them get to us early and when you give up five, six goals you are not going to win.”
Kari Lehtonen, coming off a 22-save shutout on Sunday, lasted one period after allowing three goals on 14 shots. Antti Niemi stopped 16 of 18 in relief and ended up taking the loss. Colton Sceviour, Tyler Seguin and Patrick Sharp scored for the Stars, who had a five-game points streak snapped and are now 27-8-3 on the season.
Columbus, which has been under fire from head coach John Tortorella, snapped a three-game losing streak. Goaltender Curtis McElhinney turned in a sparkling 40-save effort. The Blue Jackets netminder had several big saves, including stops on Sharp and Jason Spezza on breakaways and a point-blank shorthanded bid by Jamie Benn.
“That’s the save I have been looking for this year, and it’s been frustrating not to get it,” McElhinney said. “It was there tonight, and it was a good feeling.”
The Blue Jackets grabbed a 1-0 lead 35 seconds into the game when Boone Jenner scored during a scramble in front of the Dallas net. The Stars drew even at the 6:03 mark when Sceviour backhanded a puck in the net during a scramble in from of the Columbus net. But the Blue Jackets regained the lead 85 seconds later. Defenseman Kevin Connauton scored from the point to make it a 2-1 game at the 7:28 mark of the first. And then Matt Calvert tallied with 1:25 left in the period to put Columbus up 3-1 heading into the first intermission.
The Stars cut the lead to 3-2 at 8:23 of the second period when Benn set up Seguin, who scored from the slot off the rush. The Stars had a power play late in the period, but Columbus killed it off and then a minute later Brandon Saad scored to push the Blue Jackets’ lead to 4-2 with 1:17 left in the period.
“It was a huge penalty kill,” Tortorella said. “I thought that was very important; that’s a big one to kill off. Saad’s goal was a big goal to go into the third period. That’s a very important goal to score before the intermission.”
Sharp scored on an odd-man rush 1:12 into the third period to cut the Columbus lead to 4-3, but the Blue Jackets answered midway through the period. After Niemi came out of the net to play the puck, his pass was picked off by Scott Hartnell, who then scored into the open net to make it a 5-3 game at the 9:55 mark. Moments later McElhinney made a glove save on a Sharp breakaway bid to keep it a two-goal Columbus lead.
Rene Bourque scored into an empty net with 15 seconds remaining to make it a 6-3 final.
“It’s not easy to win in this league. It was just a poor effort against a desperate team,” Benn said. “We knew their coach was challenging them, and they were going to come out hard. It started on the first shift, and we just made it too easy on them.”
Stars forward Ales Hemsky left the game late in the second period with a lower-body injury and did not return. Hemsky was injured when he was hit in the foot by the puck while blocking a shot by Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin.
“It looks like he could be out for a little bit, but we don’t know for sure,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff.
*The Stars outshot the Blue Jackets 43-33 and had a 72-61 advantage in attempted shots.
*Patrick Sharp led the Stars with eight shots on goal and 11 attempted shots.
*The Stars were 0-3 on the power play and 2-2 on the penalty kill.
*Dallas won 35 of 75 faceoffs (47 percent).
*Tyler Seguin won 10 of 17 faceoffs (59 percent). Jamie Benn won 5 of 9 (56 percent). Cody Eakin won 9 of 20 (45 percent). Jason Spezza won 6 of 15 (40 percent). Vernon Fiddler won 4 of 11 (36 percent).
*John Klingberg led the Stars with 24:56 of ice time.
The Stars return home to take on the Nashville Predators New Year’s Eve. Thursday’s game will be the first of five meetings between the Stars and Predators.
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Patrick Sharp
Mattias Janmark – Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Colton Sceviour
Travis Moen – Vernon Fiddler – Valeri Nichushkin
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya – Jason Demers
Jyrki Jokipakka – Jordie Benn
Scratched: Patrick Eaves, Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth
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.