The Dallas Stars, playing without centers Jamie Benn (appendectomy) and Mike Ribeiro (knee), grinded out only one point in back-to-back strong performances against St. Louis and Detroit, two of the top teams in the league. But when the Stars fell flat early against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who came into the game in last place in the Eastern Conference, Coach Glen Gulutzan had a few stern words for his team following a 2-1 loss.
“The most frustrating part was really the first 30-minutes of getting outworked. That’s always the most frustrating part,” Gulutzan said. “I’ve got no problem if you go in a shootout or you play hard and you just don’t get results. When you only play 30-minutes, some team comes into your building on a Friday night and outplays you for 30-minutes, I have a real big problem with that.
“How do you deal with the problem? You have to make them aware that they are not good enough – with or without Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro in the lineup – to not be a hardworking team. That’s the message. They are just not good enough.”
“You have to work 60-minutes. We have to work 60-minutes every night with everyone in our lineup if we want to play in the playoffs. If we don’t, then we won’t play. That needs to be learned.”
In their next outing against the Minnesota Wild, the Stars seemed to respond to Gulutzan’s tongue lashing as they took a 2-1 lead early, only to give up three goals in less than one minute in the second period in a 5-2 loss.
The Stars have now lost their last five games, and have scored just six goals during the losing streak. Their overall record fell to 24-21-2 on the season, and there are now three teams ahead of them in the chase for the eighth playoff spot.
Just when you think the Stars’ power play cannot get worse, it does. Over the last fifteen games, the Stars have gone 5 for 44 with the man advantage, and are converting only 13.6 percent of the time for the season. Only three teams are worse in the NHL.
Stars forward Eric Nystrom summed up the team’s inconsistent play of late after the Minnesota loss:
“That’s called inconsistency. You’re not going to be where you want to be if you are playing inconsistent hockey. We had a good first 20-minutes and then we just drift away from our game plan. It eats you up. We’ve got to find a way to be more consistent in our game night in, night out, every shift. It’s not easy. That’s why some teams are where they are and why some teams aren’t where they want to be. It’s little inconsistencies.”
There’s still time for this team to turn it around and make the playoffs. The All-Star break is coming up and should allow Ribeiro and Benn to recuperate. But the margin for error is getting small.