Skip to Main Content
The Official Site of the Dallas Stars

What to watch for as Stars seek bounce-back effort at Florida

Following a third-period collapse in Carolina, Ken Hitchcock says it's time for Dallas to turn words into action

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB /

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Dallas Stars won't get much opportunity to reflect on what was arguably their worst outing of the season, a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night, as they will face an equally unpredictable Florida Panthers team tonight in South Florida.

Here are some thoughts and reflections on rebounding from a game that saw a 1-1 third-period tie turn, inexplicably, into a four-goal deluge and blowout loss.

Picking up the pieces

We imagine Tuesday's team meetings and discussions that the Stars held in lieu of a traditional morning skate as being kind of like starting to clean up after a terrible storm. 

There's some broken branches over there. Here's some garbage that's up against what's left of the fence, and a busted up dog house from down the street. 

Clean up and move on, in other words. 

For Ken Hitchcock, it's about trying to reinforce the mindset of playing not just sound road hockey for a while -- in Monday's case, two periods -- but committing to the duration. 

"So, what did we learn? We did exactly what we wanted to do for 40 minutes. We played the game the right way. And then we stopped doing the things we were doing well and they took advantage of it," Hitchcock said Tuesday after the team's meetings wrapped up. 

"So, we got 40 minutes that we can build on, but we got to get 60 minutes if we expect to give ourselves a chance to win hockey games on the road."

Video: Yandle ready to face Stars


Easy to say, hard to do

The problem for this Stars team, as they face down a 3-6-0 road record, is that they have not risen to the challenges that playing on the road represent. 

Carolina was an eminently beatable team, playing in front of a sparse home crowd. Didn't get the job done. 

Florida is another team that struggles for home support and is going through its own transitions with a 5-9-2 record and the fewest points in the Eastern Conference -- all of which means nothing if the Stars can't avoid the mental lapses that were the catalyst to Monday's loss. 

"Words are words, actions are everything," Hitchcock said. "It's hard winning on the road. It's very challenging. It's very difficult. It takes a balance of a lot of items in your game and a lot of detail in your game to win on the road, and we missed the details in the third period. We've had that a few times so that's the reality we're dealing with." 

So, is it inexperience? 

Is it a function of a team still getting used to a new coaching staff and a new way of doing business? 

Is it a reflection in a lack of mental toughness? 

Find the answers and, maybe, find some consistency on the road, but the sobering part is that it doesn't turn on a dime. 

"It just doesn't change overnight. It does not change overnight," Hitchcock said. "You keep addressing it -- you keep bringing it up, but it doesn't change. You have to keep looking in the mirror. Winning on the road is hard, because you've got to do all the difficult things just to give yourself a chance. That's what we're trying to get these guys to understand, but it's not going to be easy lesson. It's going to take some time. We've just got to be patient with it."


Kari to the rescue?

As expected, Kari Lehtonen will get the start in this second of back-to-backs. That's the challenge for backups everywhere is having to come up with superlative performances when their teammates are tired and worn down. 

The good news for the Stars is that Lehtonen has embraced this role and, in fact, has helped keep the Stars afloat in prickly situations. 

He was excellent in a 2-1 win in Calgary, coming off a disappointing loss in Edmonton the previous night. And then after a miserable loss in Winnipeg, Lehtonen stepped in and helped overwhelm the Buffalo Sabres in the first home contest after that loss the final game on an 11-game road trip. 

The veteran netminder has a chance Tuesday to win his third straight, and to help -- once again -- right a listing Dallas ship. 

"I think it's been vital. I don't think you can win in the league especially in the west without two good goalies," Hitchcock said. "Look at St. Louis, they've got two good goalies playing all the time, they do a great job. That's what we've got the potential (for), and I think more and more we'll use it." 

Just asking out loud: if Lehtonen is as he has been and plays well, it sets up an interesting challenge for Hitchcock on Thursday in Tampa -- a game against the NHL's top team that we're pretty sure Ben Bishop had penciled in as a critical game for him some time ago. 

Stay tuned.


Further changes?

Along with Lehtonen getting the start against Florida, look for rookies Jason Dickinson and Remi Elie -- both scratched against Carolina -- to get a turn in the lineup, and there could be further lineup changes pending some injury issues that will be sorted out this afternoon.

"I don't really know yet," Hitchcock said of his lineup. "We're taking the whole group to the rink and then we'll decide from there. We've got a couple of guys banged up, so we'll see. We'll make sure the two guys that were out (Elie and Dickinson) get in, their chance to play, then we'll see from there."

No shortage of candidates in terms of forwards that might come out of the lineup, given the combustion in the third period, and there are a number of players that are working their way through recent injuries, including Brett Ritchie, Tyler Pitlick and Radek Faksa.

Video: Stars looking to bounce back in Florida


Florida fun

There are some similarities between the Stars and Panthers, in that both teams entered the season having fallen off the map last year following division titles in 2015-16. 

Both teams brought in new head coaches with Bob Boughner taking on his first-ever NHL head coaching job with the Cats. It's been a process for both Boughner and Hitchcock, although fair to say, the peaks and valleys have been more severe for a Florida team that is 1-4-2 in their last seven and has won two in a row just once this season. 

The one area that, at least on paper, the Stars will be looking to exploit is the disappointing play on both sides of the special teams fence for the Panthers. They are 1-for-15 on the power play in their last six games and they have allowed at least one power-play goal in five of their last six games. 

That's good news for a Dallas power play that still ranks first in the league (their only goal Monday was an Alexander Radulov power-play marker) and their penalty kill is third overall. 

Still, stats tell only a part of the story. Carolina's power play was ranked 30th heading into Monday's game, but it was an early third-period, power-play goal by Carolina that started the ball rolling for them against Dallas.

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

View More