Coming off a 7-2 loss in Winnipeg on Sunday, things didn’t get a lot better for the Dallas Stars in Pittsburgh Tuesday night as their winless streak hit three games (0-2-1) with a 5-1 loss to the Penguins at CONSOL Energy Center.
Turnovers again were costly for the Stars, who have been outscored 14-3 over the last seven periods of regulation hockey.
“I think we can’t blame one guy for any of the goals. This is a team matter we’re going to deal with,” said Stars center Tyler Seguin. “It’s just about execution and playing our system. We’ve been showing glimpses of it lately, but we’re not consistent enough and too many breakdowns.”
The Stars had their opportunities in the game, especially when they were down just 2-1 in the second period. But they couldn’t cash in, and the Penguins were able to extend the lead, never looking back.
“I thought we were knocking on the door in the second period when we missed the opportunities we missed,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “I think the difference in the game was there were mistakes both ways. We had a couple real good opportunities in the second period, we missed the net. I thought the killer goal was the third one late in the period.”
Kari Lehtonen was back in net for the Stars after missing four games with a concussion. He didn’t get a lot of help at times and ended up stopping 27 of 32 shots.
“It was OK,” Lehtonen said. “I felt like I got a good start with some good saves there right away. After that it was just one of those games when they had a few chances and they were able to put the puck in. Just I have to be better and I think everybody else needs to be better too.”
The Stars missed an opportunity to climb back into the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They still trail the Phoenix Coyotes by two points, and saw their games in hand on the Coyotes drop to one.
The Penguins, who were coming off two losses to Philadelphia over the weekend, got a big night from their top line of Sidney Crosby (two goals, one assist), Lee Stempniak (one goal, two assists) and Chris Kunitz (one goal, one assist, and a 32-save performance from goaltender Jeff Zatkoff.
“I think that’s how you draw up responding to a tough weekend,” said Crosby. “I think as a whole, we did a better job of holding onto the puck, still giving up some odd-man rushes but we did a better job of dealing with that and [Zatkoff] made some great saves. I think as a whole we were much better, and that’s the way we want to bounce back.”
Less than a minute after the Stars killed off an early Pittsburgh power play, the Penguins struck at even strength to take the early lead. After a Dallas turnover in the defensive zone, Crosby scored off a close range backhand shot to make it a 1-0 game at the 4:17 mark.
“I thought we started the game with a couple mistakes again that gave Sidney his opportunity,” said Ruff. “Those are the mistakes we’ve got to clean up.”
The Penguins controlled play for the first 12 minutes of the game, building a 10-3 shots lead but the Stars scored on their fourth shot on the night when Seguin tipped a Trevor Daley shot past Zatkoff to tie the game 1-1 at the 12:30 mark.
The Penguins regained the lead later in the first when a Dallas turnover started a sequence that ended with Stempniak getting off a shot from the slot and Kunitz knocking home the rebound to put Pittsburgh up 2-1 at the 15:25 mark.
The Stars played well in the second, had some excellent chances to tie the game but when the period ended the Penguins had a 3-1 lead. Stempniak scored from close range off the rush with 6:39 left in the period to extend the Penguins’ lead to two goals.
“The second period, we started to tilt it a little bit, but you miss those opportunities the game goes the other way,” Ruff said.
The Stars had 1:31 of power play time to open the third period, but couldn’t cut into the Pittsburgh lead. Just 25 seconds later the Penguins extended their lead to 4-1 when Crosby scored off the rebound of a Matt Niskanen shot from the point.
Brandon Sutter rounded out the scoring in the game, tallying on a shorthanded breakaway with 7:13 left in the third to make it a 5-1 final.
“It’s just about bearing down and playing a full 60,” said Seguin. “I thought there were times we were competing and skating well, but it wasn’t for the full three periods tonight.”
The Stars wrap up their three-game road trip Thursday in Philadelphia.
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.