Morning skate: Justin Dowling makes return against Rochester

Justin Dowling will make his return to the lineup tonight when the Texas Stars host the Rochester Americans.

“It’s obviously nice,” Dowling said. “I couldn’t really do much (while I was out) … the last two days I’ve gotten better every day.”

Dowling hasn’t played since Dec. 26 against the San Antonio Rampage.

In that game, Dowling was hit hard into the end boards by San Antonio’s Garret Wilson 64 seconds after the opening face-off. He completed that game but didn’t skate again until earlier this week.

“I’m expecting to see him find his way through the game tonight,” Stars coach Derek Laxdal said. “I expect him to kind of take a step in the second half and be a point-per-game producer or three-quarters (point) per game producer … we expect him to come in here and give us a boost in the scoring department.”

Dowling was centering the second line in practice this morning between Brendan Ranford and Derek Hulak. He was also occasionally subbed in during power play drills, replacing Ranford on the second unit with Gemel Smith, Hulak, Jyrki Jokipakka and Matt Mangene.

Smith was pushed down to the third line and will center Kevin Henderson and Scott Glennie. Eric Faille will center the fourth line after impressing Laxdal with his face-off prowess last weekend.

With Dowling’s return, Texas will dress 12 forwards for the first time in four games. Texas had been dressing seven defensemen during that time with Matt Magene and Scott Valentine each taking turns at forward.

Valentine will be the healthy scratch tonight, while Laxdal said William Wrenn is “about 95 percent” and close to being a healthy option on defense.

Once Wrenn is healthy, Laxdal said there will be internal competition amongst the defensemen, while he’ll also use the group of eight to get occasional rest for some of the veterans.

Jussi Rynnas will get the start in goal after missing a scheduled start Saturday against the Toronto Marlies. Rynnas said this morning that his bruised hand is “good to go” and there weren’t any lingering effects of the injury in practice this week.

Tonight’s projected lineup:

McKenzie-Morin-Rallo
Ranford-Dowling-Hulak
Henderson-Smith-Glennie
Root-Faille-Stransky

Gaunce-Fortunus
Mangene-Meech
Honka-Jokipakka

Rynnas

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