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The Dallas Stars have lost momentum heading into their game against the Kings

The Dallas Stars have lost momentum heading into their game against the Kings
Dallas Stars' Travis Moen (27) and Colton Sceviour during the first period against the San Jose Sharks last Saturday. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP)

After leading the Central Division and the Western Conference for much of this season, the Dallas Stars have a new and less pleasant vantage point.

On Dec. 28, Dallas led the division with a 27-7-3 record and 57 points, and the Chicago Blackhawks were a seemingly distant fourth at 20-13-4 for 44 points. The Blackhawks, fueled by a franchise-record-tying 11-game winning streak, passed the Stars on Friday and moved three points ahead of them Sunday at 31-13-4 for 66 points. The Stars are second at 29-12-5 and 63 points, though they've played two fewer games.

"First of all, they're a great team. That's where we want to get to," Stars General Manager Jim Nill said of the defending champion Blackhawks. "And it's a good challenge for us now, and we'll just kind of go from there."

Where they're going is the question. The Blackhawks have been hitting stride but the Stars have been hitting turbulence.

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Dallas will take a three-game losing streak and 1-4-2 slump into its game Tuesday against the Kings at Staples Center. The Stars lead the NHL in scoring with an average of 3.3 goals per game, but they've given up four goals in each of their last two games and gave up six goals in back-to-back games against the New York Islanders and New York Rangers two weeks ago.

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"We went through a tough stretch the last two weeks, right after Christmas. A lot of games. We didn't play well enough," said Nill, who spent nearly 20 years in the Detroit Red Wings' organization before he was hired by the Stars in 2013 and recently got a five-year extension through 2022-23.

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"We've got to play better. We've got to manage the puck better. We got away from that, and it cost us. We don't like to use excuses, but fatigue was a big part of it. We played 11 games in 15 nights, with all the travel. It was tough, but that's where the team has got to mature."

Nill hasn't been afraid to make bold moves to rebuild his team. Early in his tenure he pulled off a seven-player trade to land Tyler Seguin, who scored 37 goals each of his first two seasons and has 25 this season. Nill also traded for center Jason Spezza in 2014; acquired three-time Stanley Cup winner Patrick Sharp last summer; signed free-agent defenseman Johnny Oduya, who like Sharp was with Chicago; and signed goalie Antti Niemi after acquiring Niemi's rights from the San Jose Sharks.

For now, he seems inclined to let players work through their problems.

"I like our team. I like our depth," he said "If we stay healthy, I like where we're at. If there's something that comes along that makes sense and makes us better we're always going to look at it but I like the team we have."

All-out All-Star mess

The Internet-fueled campaign to elect enforcer John Scott the Pacific Division captain for the All-Star game began as a snarky joke to make a folk hero of a guy with limited skills. It took a happy turn when Scott accepted it lightheartedly but went sour after the Arizona Coyotes traded Scott to Montreal, which promptly dispatched him to the minor leagues and maybe out of All-Star consideration.

A recap: Reddit and the Puck Daddy blog, among others, promoted Scott's election in part to mock a process that allowed fans to vote for only four All-Stars. The NHL and the Coyotes asked Scott to withdraw but Scott, who had special T-shirts made for teammates and planned to take his family to Nashville for the Jan. 31 game, declined to bow out.

Conspiracy theorists saw the three-way trade — which sent him out of the division, away from his pregnant wife and to a team that didn't want him — as a plot to keep him out of the All-Star game and replace him with someone the league approved. That might be a stretch. As of Monday, the NHL hadn't decided if Scott will play.

It was juvenile to use Scott as a pawn for publicity and bill him as a goon in the land of the skillful, but the NHL was foolish to leave its voting open to such manipulation. In the end, more people are talking about the All-Star game than otherwise would care about it and its ever-changing, never-satisfying format.

Let Scott play. Laugh with him, not at him. Then have players and coaches pick future All-Star participants if the NHL insists on continuing a game whose time has passed.

Slap shots

• The Montreal Canadiens are reported to be seriously pursuing forward Jonathan Drouin, who's playing for Syracuse of the American Hockey League while waiting for the Tampa Bay Lightning to grant his trade request. Drouin has a goal and three points in seven games with the Crunch.

• San Jose forward Raffi Torres could be back in the NHL soon. He finished serving a 41-game suspension for his blow to the head of Ducks winger Jakob Silfverberg during a preseason game and was assigned to the minor leagues for conditioning. "We know Raffi can be a very effective player for our team, and this assignment will allow him to get back into game shape," Sharks Coach Peter DeBoer said in a statement. If "very effective player" is defined as five career suspensions, two warnings and three fines, he's certainly that.

• Long Beach native Emerson Etem, traded by the Ducks to the New York Rangers last summer and on to Vancouver recently, knows this might be his last shot at the NHL. "It's about coming in here, not waiting to take up the opportunity," Etem told the Associated Press. "I've just got to run with it. This league gets better and better each year, and you only get so many chances to make an impression."

Twitter: @helenenothelen

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