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Stars’ failure to earn overtime payoff is getting frustrating

DALLAS — When Jamie Benn hammered his stick on the crossbar next to Jake Oettinger on Wednesday night, he expressed what many Stars fans felt. A sight all too familiar, in more ways than one.

Two days later the Stars lost 3-2 in overtime to the Buffalo Sabres, they lost 3-2 in overtime to the Carolina Hurricanes. One month later Martin Necas scored an overtime winner against the Stars in Raleigh, he did the same in Dallas. With that, the Stars’ record in games ending in overtime dropped to 2-7. Add in the three games that went to a shootout and the Stars are 3-9 past regulation this season.

“I think the overtime thing, it’s a little bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy right now,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said. “We just don’t have a lot of confidence, for whatever reason, in overtime. So, we’ve got to find that swagger again.”

“Puck possession.” They’re the first words out of any player or coach’s mouth when talking about regular-season overtime. With acres of open ice at three-on-three, it’s vital to get the puck first. Maintaining puck possession is also crucial. So often when the puck changes possession, the new team has a rush opportunity the other way.

“I think the guys are squeezing it a little bit,” DeBoer said. “Listen, they’re not complicated concepts. You want to hold on to possession, you want to be patient, you want to wait out the other team a little bit. We, for whatever reason, haven’t executed at that time of the game. The guys know. It’s a little bit of a confidence thing. I think you need one in overtime.”

The failing in overtime was especially frustrating for those very reasons. If the Stars never got possession or happened about the puck with less-than-ideal personnel stuck on the ice, there would be culprits to point to. When overtime began Wednesday night, Miro Heiskanen, Roope Hintz and Jason Robertson were on the ice. Hintz took the faceoff and Robertson fought for the puck and got it back to Heiskanen. Dallas’ three best players began overtime with possession.

The Stars never threatened to score, as a centering feed was intercepted and the Canes got their turn. Soon after, though, the Stars had possession again, same three players on the ice. The puck barely crossed the Stars’ blue line before Heiskanen was bumped off and the Canes took over.

Carolina turned its second opportunity into a threat as Andrei Svechnikov blew past Benn to confront Oettinger with the puck. Oettinger did his part to stonewall Svechnikov and the Stars regained possession as Benn measured things up with the puck behind the net. This time, the puck didn’t even exit the Stars’ zone. Necas stole the puck after good pressure from Svechnikov forced the turnover. Twenty seconds later, Benn slammed his stick as Necas led the Canes celebration.

The Stars possessed the puck three times, twice with their top trio on the ice and a third time with their best player of the evening, Wyatt Johnston, on the ice. Each possession ended farther and farther from the Carolina net. The end result? Zero shots on goal.

Playing Carolina tough from start to finish is nothing to scoff at, but the way the game ended leaves a sour taste. Last season, the Stars went to overtime 21 times and finished with a 15-6 mark past regulation. In contrast, the year before that, they played 20 overtime games and were 6-14.

“I think you just got to get one going the other way and feel good about it, like shootouts, and hopefully build on it,” DeBoer said.

The Stars are still the top team in the Western Conference. That gives them a bit more of a cushion for figuring out overtime than in years past, where every point left on the ice felt like one that could leave the team outside of the playoff picture at the end of the season.

However, the Stars are not running away in the standings. The consequences may not be as make-or-break as in years past but the results aren’t inconsequential. Right now, as the No. 1 seed, the Stars would be hosting the Calgary Flames in the first round of a playoff series. If Winnipeg, which is two points back with a game in hand, were to catch Dallas, based on the current standings the Stars would be hosting the defending champion Avalanche in the first round.

The Stars are going to have a lot of practice time available in the next month. Six out of their nine games in February have at least two days off prior. That should give them time to work through the issues plaguing them in overtime. For the long term, there is no three-on-three hockey when the playoffs begin, so being a lousy team at five-on-five but good in overtime would be a much bigger problem. The Stars are good at five-on-five and boast the second-best goal differential in the NHL at plus-41. But overtime play has become a problem and the Stars need to solve it before it’s too late.

Third-line spotlight

Dallas’ third line of Benn, Johnston and Ty Dellandrea is becoming one of the more fun units to watch, especially with the classic top line of Robertson, Hintz and Joe Pavelski spending time apart. They may not grade out on top analytically each game, but they have great chemistry and each individual has visibly great hockey IQ.

Let’s begin with the 19-year-old rookie, who keeps impressing.

In the first period, the trio combined for a great scoring chance. Benn made a nice soft pass to Dellandrea, who found a streaking Johnston in the slot. Johnston’s shot sailed wide. Moments later, Johnston had the puck again and this time, he drew a tripping penalty to put the Stars on the power play. Both sequences are in the clip below:

While Johnston didn’t score there, he did score the Stars’ first goal, and it was a big one. Carolina had scored a short-handed goal after the building was deflated. A couple of minutes later, Benn won an offensive zone draw and Johnston had a quick trigger to get the Stars on the board.

Johnston’s most impressive play of the night wasn’t his score. Later in the game, Johnston took a great pass from Benn and pulled a 360 shot that came as close to going in as possible without actually going in.

“I thought he was our best player tonight,” DeBoer said of Johnston. “He was that good. That says something, against a team like that coming in here. I thought he was fantastic. That’s why I had him out there in overtime, because he deserved to be out there. He’s getting better every night.

“He looks quicker, he looks more confident, he’s winning faceoffs. That was probably the biggest thing for me — against a really good faceoff team, he was 57 percent tonight. All of the things that we’ve talked to him about, he’s kind of grown right before your eyes. He was great.”

To build off Johnston’s spin-around scoring look, Benn’s passing is one of the underrated parts of his game. Aside from the feed to Johnston, Benn had a few other great dishes, including this feed under pressure to Dellandrea, who was racing to the net.

That brings us to the final member of the line. Dellandrea’s work ethic is not only strong but also smart. He can plug into most lines and at least be neutral, if not elevate, the unit. His pass to Johnston and scoring look from Benn were two plays that stood out on his ledger. Another play was in the first period, a breakaway opportunity that surprisingly did not draw a whistle.

Robertson’s goal

There isn’t much left to say about Robertson, but his goal-scoring touch is outdone only by his goal-scoring tenacity. On his goal Wednesday night, Robertson rimmed the puck in, then got a shot on net that nearly trickled in, and then converted a circus shot off the goaltender’s back and lodging the puck in the back of the net.

It’s one of his most impressive scores of the season, of which there are many.

Scoring distribution

This was the lineup to begin the game:

1G (Robertson) — Seguin — Pavelski
Marchment — Hintz — Gurianov
Ben — 1G (Johnston) — Dellandrea
Kiviranta — Faksa — Glendening

Heiskanen — Miller
Lindell — Hakanpää
Suter — Hanley

.875 save percentage (Oettinger)

Nils Lundkvist was a healthy scratch.

Three plays

These three non-scoring plays stood out.

Oettinger’s toe save

The Stars played well in front of Oettinger, for the most part. But he was called on to make some big saves, which he did in the third period. However, his most impressive save of the night came when he had to stretch out and seal the corner.

Mason Marchment’s chances

A two-for-one here. Marchment had a couple of great scoring chances but was unable to convert. One came on a breakaway just as he exited the penalty box:

The other came in the final minutes of regulation, when he looked to have a prime scoring look in the slot:

Tyler Seguin’s pass

Seguin’s offensive game has expanded over the years. This pass to Denis Gurianov when Seguin was put back on the second line was a nice feed.

(Photo of Dallas’ Jamie Benn and Carolina’s Paul Stastny: Jerome Miron / USA Today)

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