With their five-day bye week in the books, the Dallas Stars were back at practice late Thursday afternoon in Frisco. The Stars get back to playing games Friday when they take on the Arizona Coyotes at American Airlines Center.
"It was fun to get back out there," said Stars captain Jamie Benn. "We had five days off, and we went into the break the way we wanted to (with a win over Tampa Bay). We want to keep that going. But it was nice to get five days off mentally and physically, and we are going to be ready to go."
The Stars went through a lengthy practice Thursday afternoon that was broken up into two sessions. It looked like a mini-camp.
"I think the main focus was get our speed back and do everything quick out there on the ice," Benn said. "We had five days to rest and kind of mellow out, so we need to get our brains going, get our feet moving again and get back."
Video: Ruff on bye week, team health
So far, teams have struggled to get up and running after the bye week. Through Wednesday, teams were 4-12-4 in the first game after the bye week. Not an encouraging stat.
"Hopefully, we can change that tomorrow and get a win," Benn said. "When you are playing pretty consistently every other day it seems normal and then when you get five days off, it is not the norm. We have to be mentally ready to go tomorrow."
Stars coach Lindy Ruff said he is worried about execution coming out of the break. The Stars haven't played since Saturday when they defeated the Lightning in overtime. And Thursday was the first time the players have skated as a group since that game.
"The one thing that I worry about with time off, the hands, the passing and the execution part suffers," Ruff said. "You can't control a lot [when the players are off]. Some players will skate on their own, some don't, but some of it is just not being out there as a group working together. That little bit of time away obviously has hurt all the teams."
Ruff is also trying to determine his team's routine as the Stars prepare to play the Coyotes on Friday. The Stars were not allowed to practice until late this afternoon, so Ruff has to decide how to handle the pregame skate Friday morning or if he should even have the players go on the ice.
"I don't know yet," Ruff said. "It's something we spent time talking about, whether we make it optional or whether I try to persuade them as a team to maybe not go on. But there's a lot of players that I know that even if I make it optional, will choose to go out. So I think it's really going to be up to them, but I don't think a lot of teams skipped the morning skate after a four or five-day break. We kind of felt the same way, but I still look at three times you're putting on the equipment in less than 24 hours."
But however the Stars handle it, they know they need wins and points as they come out of the break. They have just 22 games remaining and a lot of ground to make up in the standings.
"Take it one game at a time," said Benn. "We've got a four-game homestand, and we have to win every game pretty much. It's do or die for this team. We have to have a strong record to finish the year. Nothing says we can't do it, so we'll see what happens."
Oduya practices, could return Sunday
*Defenseman Johnny Oduya, who has missed the past 14 games with an ankle injury, practiced with the team Thursday. He's not expected to play Friday against Arizona but could be ready for Sunday's game against Boston.
"Johnny skated all week and got a practice today. We'll get him another real good skate tomorrow and see where he is," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "He's a possibility probably as soon as Sunday."
Oduya hasn't played since the Jan. 17 game against the New York Rangers.
"Feeling better, so that's a positive," Oduya said. "A little bit of rest was needed and then go from here. You just want to get better every day."
*Defenseman Stephen Johns, who missed the two games before the break due to illness, practiced on Thursday as well.
"Report that he was feeling pretty good but not 100 percent," Ruff said. "But he is feeling better. It probably helped to have the time off."
*Forward Ales Hemsky (hip surgery) continues to practice with the team. Still no definitive timetable on a possible return.
"I know he's doing well," Ruff said. "He's ahead of schedule, which puts him closer to what I thought he would be weeks ago.
Stars practice lineup
Here's how the Stars lined up in Thursday's practice:
Jamie Benn - Cody Eakin - Patrick Eaves
Antoine Roussel - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Sharp
Curtis McKenzie - Radek Faksa - Brett Ritchie
Lauri Korpikoski - Devin Shore - Jason Spezza
Jiri Hudler - Ales Hemsky
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Jordie Benn
Patrik Nemeth - Jamie Oleksiak
Johnny Oduya - Stephen Johns
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.