Power (less) play hurts Stars' playoff hopes

With the score tied near the end of the first period, the Dallas Stars had the opportunity they wanted to try to seize momentum and control of a must-win game against the San Jose Sharks.

San Jose was whistled for interference with 1:22 left in the period, giving the Stars a power play. And things got even better less than a minute later, when a hooking call on Brent Burns gave Dallas a two-man advantage.

At least it's supposed to be an advantage.

It certainly didn't appear that way. The Stars got one shot off on the 5-on-3 before the period ended, but it was blocked. The buzzer sounded with the Stars passing the puck instead of shooting, garnering a few boos from the sellout crowd of 18,584 at American Airlines Center.

"We didn't execute there," said a depressed-looking Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. "We didn't know the time left on the clock. With 19 seconds left we had a set play there, got a shot off, just didn't execute and lost a little traffic time."

But in between periods, the Stars had 17 minutes to dissect things and figure out a strategy. And they skated onto the ice hoping to apply it. But in the final 38 seconds of 5-on-3 time, they couldn't get a shot off. It's been an issue for most of the season and it was again Tuesday. Dallas did eventually take the lead in that second period, but only held it for 32 seconds. But it was that long power play that was a chance to send the Sharks a message and take some control, and the Stars couldn't do it.

"We had things set up, but we didn't execute," Gulutzan said.

The power play hasn't executed well in weeks. Dallas has three power-play goals in its last 13 games and is 1-for-22 in the last seven games. That's the reason the Stars are last in the NHL on the power play at a 14.1 percent success rate.

It's the why that is tough to figure out. Dallas has skill players like Mike Ribeiro, Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn that can make things happen. They have Brenden Morrow, who can crash the net. But the power play looks out of sorts. Sometimes it's too many passes looking for the perfect shot. Or it's missing an opportunity to make a crisp pass that can create something. Or it's not shooting enough pucks into traffic (and creating that traffic) and seeing what happens.

"My opinion, I think we're probably looking for that one extra pass trying to make an easy goal instead of just pounding them in there," Morrow said. "Not even pounding them in there, they don't have to be hard. Just get them in front of the net and scratch and claw and hack away. And then things open up from there. There's chaos at the net and that's when the plays happen. Sometimes it looks good and then we're holding the puck and making plays around the outside, but we're doing about the same thing and they ice it three or four times. If you're not getting pucks in the interior at the net, you're not really getting many opportunities."

Stephane Robidas agreed, saying it's time to make things simple on the power play.

"Sometimes when you start struggling, you try to complicate things, and I think you have to go back to basics and simplify things," Robidas said. "We have to shoot more pucks at the net, get some traffic and maybe not try to make the perfect play."

It may be too late now. The Stars are in a tough spot, needing to win the next two games -- on the road in Nashville on Thursday and at home against St. Louis on Saturday -- and then get some help.

The missed opportunities left the Stars dressing room a quiet one, with players knowing the playoffs are slipping away from them. They can place a big part of the blame on the power play.