Let’s break down the analytics of the Stars penalty kill on the road*…just kidding, we’re going to talk about Stephen Johns’ return to hockey, of course, we’re going to talk about Stephen Johns’ return to hockey.
Johns returned to play his first game in 22 months on a conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars in Cedar Park on Saturday night. It was a return that was delayed by 24 hours after an unfortunate medical emergency involving the traveling Toronto Marlies assistant coach Rob Davison on Friday night lead the Marlies to make the decision to forfeit the game.
Thankfully Davison was released from the hospital Saturday and returned to be with his family in Toronto.
Some things are more important than hockey. Johns’ delayed return to the ice, took place in front of a hyped-up Cedar Park crowd (and a number who had traveled in from Dallas just for the game). In a classy move, the Toronto Marlies received a round of applause upon taking the ice, but the biggest ovation was reserved for the defenseman wearing number 2.
There was a lot of curiosity as to how Johns’, long considered one of the Stars’ most talented defensemen, would do after such a prolonged period out, this game, however, was a demonstration as to why the Stars are so hopeful about having him back in their top four. Johns was instrumental in the first period, playing practically every other shiftand earning a primary assist on the power-play goal as the Stars went ahead. In the second period, he demonstrated his absolute cannon of a shot with an Ovechkin-esque one-timer from the top of the right circle to score, a rocket that left Marlie’s keeper Kaskisuo sat on the ice in stunned disbelief.
To cap off a dominant night, Johns went on to record 2 more primary assists in the third on the way to a 5-3 defeat of the visiting team. While it might be expected that the AHL team would be cautious in their deployment of Johns he spent time on both the penalty kill and power play and per Sean Shapiro in the Athletic, spent roughly 20 minutes on the ice.
In short, Johns looked like an NHL player on AHL ice, showing skill, speed, and the ability to throw absolutely monster hits. He was clearly emotional about his return as he was awarded the first star of the game. The emotion is understandable, as there must have been times in the last year and a half where he doubted whether he would ever play the game he so clearly loves again.
*For those who are interested in such things, though, I’d suggest going back and re-watching the Stars final kill against LA (and for that matter the last kill by San Jose against the Stars) as absolutely textbook examples of how to limit opposition possession in the zone.
It’s early days still and although caution dictates that we must see how he does in the days and weeks to come with a return to full-contact competitive hockey this initial game was a true exhibition of his talents.
Featured Image: Derek Leung/Getty Images