So much for that theory of getting away from American Airlines Center being the best thing for the Dallas Stars after back-to-back losses to Montreal and Detroit to end their five-game homestand with a disappointing 2-2-1 record.
That’s because on Monday night, the Stars continued their recent malaise, namely their lack of team defense, as the New York Islanders blitzed Dallas, 7-3, to kick off a three-game road trip in disappointing fashion.
New York might be one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference, but against the Stars, the Isles looked like world beaters, capitalizing on countless turnovers by Dallas, converting three times on the power play as they outscored the Stars 7-1 in the final two periods.
Sure, Dallas led 2-0 after one period but that lead quickly evaporated in the middle frame and by the time the final horn sounded, the Stars had not only lost their third straight game for the first time this season, but they had allowed 18 goals over their past three games, all against Eastern teams.
"We were outskated. We couldn’t win one-on-one battles. They basically looked how we usually look," Stars first-year head coach Lindy Ruff said. "Their legs were better. Their energy level was better. Their puck management was better. That might have been our worst game of the year."
It was a game that started well enough for the visitors as Jamie Benn put the Stars ahead 1-0 when he roofed a shot from the right side of the ice just over five minutes in. Dallas then went ahead by two goals when Erik Cole continued his recent surge with his 11th goal with 6:12 remaining before the first intermission.
However, that was about it in terms of Stars highlights as the Isles hit the ice in the second period, tying the game when Ryan Strome scored on the power play 1:41 into the frame. New York then reeled off two unanswered to lead 4-2 before Valeri Nichushkin made it a one-goal game again at 4-3 with 4:32 left in the second period.
But when the Isles added another goal, their fourth of the frame, with just 28 seconds remaining in the middle period, it gave them a 5-3 lead after 40 minutes, capping what might have been one of the worst periods of the year for the Stars.
"For me, it started in the second period with the one-on-one battles, the 50/50 pucks. We didn’t win those battles," Ruff said.
Two positives from this loss were the return of both Trevor Daley and Sergei Gonchar, who had missed a combined 20 games due to injury, to the Dallas blue line. In fact, Ruff singled out Daley, who had missed 14 straight games with a high ankle sprain, as one of the few Dallas players who didn’t look slow against the Isles.
For Gonchar, who returned from a six-game absence with concussion-like symptoms, the Stars’ recent losing streak boils down to one simple yet inescapable fact.
"I think we’re not playing our game the way we’ve been playing when we were successful. I think we have to get back to basics and start doing what we’ve been doing," Gonchar said.
The Stars don’t hit the ice again until Thursday when they begin another back-to-back against the New Jersey Devils. And given how things have gone for his club over the past three games, having several days between games might be for the best.
"Maybe we need a couple days to recover because there hasn’t been a game where we looked this slow, have moved the puck this slow and haven’t been able to catch guys from behind. It was embarrassing. It was tough," Ruff said. "We’ve got to put it behind us and get ready to move on."