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Stephen Johns back from AHL stint

Stars hope time in minors can help defenseman get back on track

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

Defenseman Stephen Johns' stint in the AHL turned out to be a brief one. Johns, who was assigned to the Texas Stars on Friday, was recalled to Dallas on Sunday.

Before being sent down, Johns had been a healthy scratch in two straight games with Dallas and had played in just three of the previous six games.

"I just wanted to play," Johns said following Sunday's practice in Frisco. "That was the whole reason behind it, for me to play, get my confidence back and get ready for the grind back here."

Johns played two games in the AHL over the weekend, registering three goals, five shots on goal and a plus-two rating as Texas won two games against San Antonio. One of Johns' goals was a game-winner in overtime. The goals stood out, but Dallas management was looking at Johns' overall play in the AHL games.

"There was some good and some bad. There was improvement in his play," said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. "You can look at scoring a couple of goals and think he must have played great, but we were looking at puck movement and playing responsibly defensively. There were some areas he did well at and there were some areas he admittedly tried to do too much. I think it was a good experience for him to go and play."

The 24-year-old Johns has had some ups and downs with Dallas this season, his first full one at the NHL level. He's hit a rough patch lately. During his past six games, shot attempts five-on-five while he is on the ice have been 62 for vs. 120 against. Over his past seven games, high-danger scoring chances five-on-five while he has been on the ice have been 8 for vs. 22 against, according to naturalstattrick.com.

"It's been pretty obvious that it's not been very good," Johns said. "I haven't been playing, so any way you look at it, it hasn't been good. It's as simple as that."

Ruff said the key area of struggle for Johns has been in moving the puck, an area that has been an issue with the team as a whole at times this season.

"His puck movement had really been stalled out and he'd gotten frustrated," Ruff said. "There was a point in the Calgary game (Nov. 10) where we had to not play him for a while and a little bit again in one of the later games. I just thought his frustration level was getting real high."

The hope is that the weekend in the AHL will help get Johns back on the right track. A similar move appeared to work for another young defenseman recently. Esa Lindell went to the AHL, played two games, returned to Dallas and has played well in his first three games back.

Johns, like Lindell, is still a young defenseman. The 24-year-old Johns has played only 43 NHL games when you combine both regular season and playoffs.

"Young defensemen are a little bit up and down," Ruff said. "We had a chance to get [Johns] a little bit extra ice time and got it for him. Esa has proved well with his extra ice time and has been real solid in his return."

Time will tell when Johns gets back into the lineup. Chances are it will be soon. The defense pairs in Sunday's practice were the same as those used in Friday's win over Vancouver, but with four road games coming up in six days, Ruff said he probably will have to use all eight active defensemen over the next week. 

As for Johns, he'll be looking to make the most of the opportunity when he does get back into the Dallas lineup. 

"I need to get back to the way I started the season and the way I ended the year last year," he said. "It's pretty simple to say you are playing bad, but you have to understand why you are playing bad and get yourself out of that rut."

Notes: Spezza struggling

*Stars center Jason Spezza played just 11:04 in Friday's 2-1 win over Vancouver and was moved to the fourth line during the game. Spezza was on the fourth line again in Sunday's practice in Frisco. Stars coach Lindy Ruff said Spezza has hit a bump in the road.

"He's really struggled the last couple games, so the ice time went down," Ruff said. "Just some puck decisions, got to make better decisions."

*Neither defenseman Johnny Oduya (lower body) nor forward Jiri Hudler (illness) practiced on Sunday, but both skated earlier in the day. Ruff said he didn't anticipate either player would travel with the team on Sunday. Oduya has missed the past three games, and Hudler has missed the past thirteen.

Practice lineup

Here was Sunday's practice lineup. Patrick Eaves (maintenance) did not skate.

Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Patrick Sharp
Devin Shore - Cody Eakin - Lauri Korpikoski
Antoine Roussel - Radek Faksa - Brett Ritchie
Curtis McKenzie - Adam Cracknell - Jason Spezza

Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis - Julius Honka
Jamie Oleksiak - Jordie Benn
Patrik Nemeth - Stephen Johns

Kari Lehtonen
Antti Niemi

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.

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