Dallas Stars defenseman Trevor Daley goes after the puck against Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta in the first period.
Matt Strasen/Associated Press
Dallas Stars center Cody Eakin (20) tries to get a shot off Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in the second period.
Matt Strasen/Associated Press
Players from both teams are separated as the Penguins' left wing James Neal (18) and Dallas Stars center Vernon Fiddler (38) exchange punches in the first period.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
DALLAS — Penguins coach Dan Bylsma probably was tempted to burn the tapes of his team’s 5-1 loss to Florida Monday night at Consol Energy Center.
Not a bad idea, but he might want to try something different with any video evidence of their 3-0 defeat to the Dallas Stars Saturday night at American Airlines Center.
Back the team bus over it, maybe. Then put the remnants through a shredder.
Or perhaps Bylsma could do something really extreme with the tapes, and force his players to sit and watch all 60 minutes.
Assuming human-rights activists wouldn’t construe that as cruel and unusual punishment, of course.
OK, the Penguins’ performance against Dallas didn’t actually rise to the level of an international incident, but neither was it what could reasonably be expected of a team that has overcome considerable adversity to cobble together one of the best records in the NHL (36-14-2).
Especially when, less than a week earlier, they had been humbled by another club that, like the Stars, faces the very real possibility of witnessing the Stanley Cup playoffs only through the miracle of cable television.
“I think it’s work ethic right now,” Penguins left winger Tanner Glass said. “I think it’s shortcuts, and thinking that it’s going to come easy. It’s a good league with good teams, and you can’t take shortcuts.
“They outworked us. A lot of times, they were first on the pucks and more physical in the puck battles. When they’re first and physical, it makes it tough to recover pucks.”
Glass, it should be noted, was one of the Penguins who did more than break even in physical confrontations with the Stars. He accounted for 13 of the Penguins’ 36 hits; no teammate had more than six.
The Penguins actually outhit Dallas, but that was one of the few statistical categories in which they had an edge.
Dallas’ most significant advantage came in special-teams play, as the Stars dominated the Penguins’ power play and penalty-kill, both of which had entered the game as the top-ranked units in the league.
Dallas scored on the first two of its three chances with the extra man, and killed all four Penguins power plays.
“We’re minus-2 in the special-teams battle,” Bylsma said. “And that was a big part of the story.”
Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen was part of it, too, as he stopped 24 shots to record his second shutout in the past three games. Lehtonen was not, however, compelled to make more than a few quality stops, especially when there was any real uncertainty about the outcome.
Although the Penguins played fairly well in the early part of the game — “The first 10 minutes of this game, we came out strong,” Bylsma said — they seemed to get that out of their system by the time Sergei Gonchar scored the power-play goal that put Dallas in front to stay at 15:02 of the opening period.
Dallas, which won for the third consecutive time in a five-game homestand, played with the urgency of a team trying to claw back into contention for a playoff berth.
The Penguins didn’t.
“We got outworked, and we didn’t execute when we got chances,” Penguins center Sidney Crosby said. “They carried the play, especially for the first two periods.”
While Dallas competed with an obvious desperation, the Penguins looked like a team that has built a commanding lead in the Metropolitan Division and a comfortable one in the Eastern Conference.
Which, not coincidentally, they have, although everyone asked rejected a suggestion that the Penguins might be having trouble generating urgency because they are so far in front of the teams chasing them.
“There’s no looking at the standings and taking your foot off the pedal … because of a lead [in the standings],” Bylsma said. “I think we have seen some teams, we see tonight with this team, they’re really pushing hard right now to get in the playoffs.
“This was a desperate team, played hard. We have to be able to match that, regardless of where our position is or what the standings look like.”
But they didn’t — for the second time in six days — and Crosby said the Penguins shouldn’t have to look to the standings for incentive.
“When you’re playing good hockey teams and teams that want to win, that’s all the motivation you need,” he said. “We expect a lot of one another and we need to find a way to be much better.”
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