When Remi Elie buried a one-timer off a feed from Devin Shore in the second period against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night, it marked only the second time in the month of March that the Dallas Stars had scored more than three goals in a game. The tally gave the Stars a 4-2 lead, but Dallas still went on to lose 6-5 in a shootout. The only other time Dallas scored four goals in a contest this month also resulted in a loss — 5-4 in overtime to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Overall, the Stars have dropped five of their last six games. Yet they still sit in one of the Western Conference’s wild-card spots. Dallas had a chance to inch closer to the third position in the Central Division had it held on in Toronto. The Stars manufactured a point, but a second would have gone a long way in a tight playoff race. Dallas has only picked up that single point halfway through a six-game road trip. After facing off with the Ottawa Senators on Friday night, head coach Ken Hitchcock’s team will have to improve its play for meetings with the Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets to close out the trip.
Lehtonen Has Struggled With Bishop Out
The Stars have struggled to play a complete game in recent weeks. When the offense is firing, the defense and goaltending tends to falter — and vice versa. In the last two losses, it’s been the latter that has plagued Dallas the most. Kari Lehtonen, who continues to play in place of the injured Ben Bishop, has allowed nine goals in the Stars’ last two games. He’s posted a .847 save percentage in those matchups, much lower than his season average of .915. The veteran netminder has been off his game when Dallas needs him to be on it the most.
Lehtonen gifted the Leafs the opening goal of the game Wednesday. The puck drifted rather harmlessly toward his net less than five minutes into the action. He came out of the crease to play it, leaving the cage exposed. Lehtonen failed to make what appeared to be an easy play when the puck bounced off his stick and ricocheted in front of the net. Leafs forward Nazem Kadri was forechecking and found himself in the right place at the right time for one of the easiest goals of his career — a mere poke-checking motion that resulted in a 1-0 lead and another embarrassing start for the Stars.
Stars’ Defense Hasn’t Helped Either
James van Riemsdyk recorded a hat trick against the Stars, and the Dallas defense gave him a huge assist. Though Dallas defensemen John Klingberg and Esa Lindell were only minus-1 each, they were on the ice for all five of Toronto’s goals. Klingberg provides plenty of offense — he leads the league in points by a defenseman with 58. But the 25-year-old is still susceptible to bone-headed plays and defensive gaffes, many of which have influenced the Stars’ recent blunders.
On van Riemsdyk’s first goal, both Klingberg and Lindell stood haplessly in front of Lehtonen as van Riemsdyk had time to take a shot, collect the rebound, dust it off, fumble it a bit and finally bury it top shelf over the sprawled goalie. Lindell was nearest the goal scorer, but neither he nor Klinberg — nor Devin Shore, who also occupied space in front of the net — put a body on van Riemsdyk or poked the puck into the corner.
The Dallas defense has improved dramatically under Hitchcock; the team currently sits sixth in the league in goals against per game at 2.6. But with the offensive in an extended slump, the Stars can’t afford to give up five goals in any game. They’ll need a total team effort with Marc Methot sidelined with another injury. With offensive powerhouses like the Capitals, Jets and Bruins on the schedule in the near future, Klingberg and company need to right their wrongs and make up for the loss of Methot in a hurry. If they don’t, it could spell trouble for Dallas’s playoff chances.
Inconsistent Offense Still a Problem in Big D
Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov and Jamie Benn are a threat to put the puck in the net on any given night. They’ve proven that to be true time and time again. All three have north of 60 points on the season, with the red-hot Seguin leading the way with 68. They are the only three players with 20 goals or more on Dallas’ roster as well. Seguin leads in that category with 37, five away from Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin, who paces the entire league. The Stars could use another player like Seguin or Ovechkin — someone who is a threat to score on every shift. Radulov and Benn do their part with 25 goals apiece, but the same narrative has held true all season in Dallas: the Stars don’t have any secondary scoring.
Mattias Janmark has had a pleasant season with 17 goals and 15 assists, but he isn’t a bonafide 20-goal scorer. Neither is Radek Faksa, who has 14 goals on the year. Tyler Pitlick has 13. Those are the Stars’ next three goal scorers on the list following the terrific trio of Seguin, Radulov and Benn. Hitchcock has tried to split those three up numerous times throughout the season to hide his team’s lack of depth, but he’s always forced to unite them again as the Stars fail to find the twine for lengthy amounts of action. When they do get back together, it’s usually too late to mount a comeback. The constant shuffling also prohibits the players from developing any sort of rhythm or chemistry.
One can’t fault the head coach for always seeking different combinations on the ice, though — the Stars have managed to score three or more goals in just four of their last 15 outings. Until his team proves capable of scoring a healthy amount every night, Hitchcock will likely continue to search for a lineup that produces offense. With only 11 games left in the season, he’s running out of time.