Stars look to get back on track against slumping Oilers

EDMONTON, Alberta — The Edmonton Oilers have scored just four goals over their last three games, getting just a single point over that span.

The Dallas Stars have one of the NHL’s worst defensive records.

When the two teams meet Tuesday night at Rogers Place, it’s a case of the very stoppable force meeting the very movable object.

The Stars have lost two in a row, giving up 10 goals over that span. The Stars have given up 221 goals in 68 games, the second-worst defensive record in all of the NHL.

Night after night, a talented group of forwards that includes Tyler Seguin (67 points) and Jamie Benn (63 points) are asked to outscore what the team gives up on the back end.

The team traded veteran defensemen Jordie Benn and Johnny Oduya just before the March 1 deadline, and that put more pressure on an already reeling younger core of players.

“I think it’s starting to pile up, now,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said about his team’s defensive woes. “I think you replace some of the older veterans that have gone out, younger guys going in. I’ve got a job to do with the young D. I’ve got to get them to a better place. That’s my responsibility. You know, I think they’ve struggled in some areas. I’ve got to show some patience, they can’t be scared to play. At the same time, they’ve got to grow.”

“It’s embarrassing, it’s hard to put into words,” Jamie Benn said about the Stars’ defensive woes and league-worst penalty killing percentage, at just a little over 74 per cent. “If you’re going to play like that and have those numbers you’re not going to get too far.”

The Oilers are telling the media that their recent slump isn’t cause for concern. But, the Dallas game marks the fifth of an eight-game homestand for the Oilers, and they haven’t taken advantage so far by going 1-2-1 through the first four games.

The slump slid Edmonton into a wild card spot in the Western Conference after it had been battling for the Pacific Division lead most of the season.

“I think every team goes through phases like that,” said Oilers right winger Leon Draisaitl, who has 56 points in 68 games this season. “We had our phase this year already and we battled through it. For us, I think, it’s more important that we worry about ourselves more than the other teams. I think it’s about us. We’re more than capable of getting out of it and banking some point here coming up.”

NHL leading scorer Connor McDavid has been held pointless in two of the Oilers’ previous three games, including Sunday’s 4-1 loss to Montreal. Edmonton held a 1-0 lead well into the third period, gave up two goals in a span of 69 seconds and two-empty net goals in a span of 40 seconds.

Despite the collapse, coach Todd McLellan said he won’t be blowing up the Oilers lines or moving players to the press box.

“They’re not going great, they’re not going the way we want as far as results,” he said Monday’s practice. “But, if you look at a few of the games on the homestand, I thought we played quite well against Detroit, exceptional game against Pittsburgh (but) came out on the short end.

“Last night, our execution wasn’t where it needs to be, but panic and apprehension isn’t going to help our group. We’ve got to learn to navigate our way through the ups and downs. This segment of 10 or 12 games we could drop it anywhere we want during the season, and we need to behave that way, rather than get uptight because it’s near the end of the year.”