DALLAS — After a homestand that started off so promisingly with three straight wins over good teams in the Minnesota Wild, Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins, a run of games where the Dallas Stars outscored the opposition 14-1, the Stars fell to earth a bit in their final two games of January on home ice, losing a tough one to the Colorado Avalanche on Monday and in overtime to the New Jersey Devils on Thursday.
The story against the Avs was that Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who got a five-year, $29.5 million extension on Thursday, was just practically unbeatable on Monday at American Airlines Center and just a bit better than Dallas netminder Kari Lehtonen.
And against the Devils, Stars head coach Lindy Ruff admits his team was flat to start the game and it showed. New Jersey scored the game’s first and second goals to lead 2-0 in the second period. Dallas pulled one back in the middle frame from captain Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin’s top-shelf goal during a scramble in front of the net with 52 seconds left in regulation allowed the Stars to get a point.
But after Benn took a tripping penalty on Jersey’s Patrik Elias early in overtime, who ended up with the game-winner not long after, this one was in the books and true to form, Ruff offered his own brand of brutally honest assessment of his team’s performance in their final January home game.
"I thought we were awful. I thought we came out flat," Ruff said. "We lost a lot of the battles and got outskated. You don’t win many games like that."
The Stars logged just four shots, equaling a season-low, in the first period and finished with just 16 shots in the game. But that’s exactly the kind of game the Devils play, one where they pick their spots offensively, don’t commit bad penalties and limit the opposition’s chances.
"They trap real hard and they don’t give up many opportunities inside and don’t give up many shots," Dallas center Cody Eakin said of the Devils.
However, the one area where Dallas clearly lost the battle was on special teams as the Devils were 2-for-3 on the power play as both the game-winner from Elias in OT and the second-period goal that put New Jersey ahead 2-0 from Travis Zajac came with the man advantage.
And the Stars own power play, well they failed to convert during a 5-on-3 in the first period, something which definitely gave the Devils an additional jolt of confidence.
"It was just a killer. For me, that lifts our bench and puts the hammer down," Ruff said of that missed opportunity.
Of course, it was great to see the Stars display what has been an ongoing theme this season of being resilient and coming up with big plays when they were needed most with Seguin’s game-tying flip with under a minute left in regulation, but as Ruff says, one point is nice but Dallas can ill afford to leave points on the table as they head into their final four games before the Olympic break.
"The fact that we battled and we had people around the net with the goalie out to pick up that point was really big," Ruff said. "The point is big, but we need more than that. As a team, it was unacceptable the way we came out tonight."
Dallas begins a three-game road trip Saturday at the Anaheim Ducks. The Stars’ final home game before the Sochi Olympics is next Saturday against the Phoenix Coyotes.