What's ailing the talented Stars?

TORONTO -- Lindy Ruff called it "a reset," and his Dallas Stars certainly need one.

Meeting with the team Monday on the heels of yet another disappointing loss, the Stars head coach somewhat went back to square one.

"I called it a system reset; we rebooted,'' Ruff said after a one-hour practice at Air Canada Centre ahead of Tuesday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. "We actually showed them some of our training camp video. I said, 'If we want to remain consistent, these are the things we have to do consistently.' And we haven't. We do them in spurts. When we do them well, we're a good team.

"I referenced last year -- 80 percent of the guys in that room had career years playing the way we need to play. I went through all that with them.''

It feels like a crossroads moment of the season for the Stars, a talented club that has looked disjointed from the get-go, the parts seemingly mostly there on paper but the sum of them not coming together properly. At 9-10-5 and five points out of the last wild-card playoff spot in the tough Western Conference, the Stars must begin the turnaround against the Maple Leafs.

"I think we had such high expectations for this year, and we still do. We got a lot of the year left," said Stars captain Jamie Benn. "But we definitely have to turn it around pretty quick here. We got to get on a roll and start putting together those four- and five-game winning streaks.''

The Stars coaching staff would first settle for three consecutive periods of good hockey. Ruff has hammered home the urgency of the situation.

"I've gone to the leaders in the group and said, 'It starts with you guys. You guys have to do the right things on a consistent basis so that everybody follows you guys,''' Ruff said Monday.

Consistency has been a word often muttered in the Stars' dressing room but rarely attained where it matters most, on the ice. After an offseason that saw Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky added to a forward group already including Benn and Tyler Seguin, expectations grew after last season's surprise playoff berth.

Those expectations weren't just from media observers and fans, they came from within. And they brought a new kind of pressure.

"I think some of our players have had a tough time with expectations, yeah,'' said Ruff. "I think that weight has been heavy. Our leadership is for the most part young.

"Sometimes as an underdog there's not a lot of pressure. You can climb up, you can keep grinding away and you're sort of flying under the radar. I think we were instantly put on the radar [in the off-season] and I think some players have had a tough time with it.''

From day one this season, it just hasn't happened.

"They haven't defended well. I think the best part of their defending game last year is that they had the puck a lot, and they don't seem to be able to get a grip on their possession game,'' said Daryl Reaugh, the former NHL goalie and current color man for Stars' game broadcasts, on Monday.

"They've been rattled by poor third periods where they'd be in a game and either don't get a save or made really stupid plays with the puck or just flat-out couldn't score at the other end. When that started to multiply game after game, it was the same thing, I think they had a real serious 'Here we go again' syndrome built up in there. And they've had a tough time getting out of it.''

About as blunt as it gets, right? It's why Reaugh is among the very best at what he does. No sugarcoating. It's also the truth.

"We're still trying to find ourselves a little bit as a team," said Spezza. "At times we've been really good, and at times we've been really bad.''

Let's start with the basics. The Stars give up too many shots (32.5 per game, 25th in the NHL) and too many goals (3.46 per game, last in the NHL). Goalie Kari Lehtonen has to take his share of the blame; it's not so much the number of goals he gives up as the timing of them. The Stars need their franchise goalie to deliver more timely saves.

The overhauled blue line is incredibly young. It's made a lot of mistakes, but with youth that will happen. You have to give this group a pass until you see it develop more.

But there's no excuse for some of the poor decisions some of the forward group has made, both with and without the puck. Overall, the Stars need to find a way to have more puck possession, which will translate into less time defending.

"There's not a better defense than when the puck is on your stick," said defenseman Trevor Daley. "You look at the top teams, those are the teams with the most [offensive] zone time. We got to find more ways to get zone time. We've got to get our feet going and get pucks in deep.

"At times we look like the fastest team in the league and then at times we look like the slowest team in the league. Our identity we've tried to set the last two years is a team that plays at a high tempo, a high pace. We just got to get back to that.''

One player in particular who has struggled is Hemsky, who has just one goal in 23 games.

"I've had players that have come from another team, you can pick a player on almost every team in this league that has had his struggles,'' said Ruff. "His struggles, I think for me, he's had some great opportunities and he's gotten pretty down on himself when he's missed those opportunities.

"I'm just trying to get him to play more our game, which is take some of those opportunities when you're inside to get a few more pucks on the net, give yourself a better chance, and I think lately he's done a better job of that.''

Hemsky skated with the big boys, Seguin and Benn, during Monday's practice. Anything to try to give him a spark.

"It's obviously fun to skate with those guys,'' said Hemsky. "It hasn't gone the way I wanted yet. It's hard when you come to a new team and you don't chip in like you wanted. But I'm going to try and find a way.''

It goes much deeper than Hemsky, of course. The Stars have to find their mojo from the second half last season and completely forget the opening quarter of this year.

"Obviously, it's disappointing right now," said Daley. "But I think we've shown we can play and we're a good team. We just haven't shown it for a full 60 minutes; we've shown it for different parts of the game. It's something that's been a huge focus.

"There are no worse critics than ourselves. We're hard on ourselves to get this going. And I think we're going to get this going here soon.''