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Johnson Practices, Expects to Play Saturday

April 05, 2002|Jerry Crowe

Left wing Craig Johnson, sidelined the last 21/2 weeks because of an eye injury, was cleared Thursday to return to practice this morning and is expected to return to the King lineup for Saturday night's game against the Edmonton Oilers.

Johnson, sixth among the Kings with 13 goals, was injured in the first period of a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on March 18 when Shark captain Owen Nolan checked him face-first into the glass at San Jose.

The force of the impact opened a cut above Johnson's left eye and tore the retina in his right, which had been damaged in January when struck by a high stick by defenseman Vitaly Vishnevski of the Mighty Ducks.

Johnson, who leads the Kings with a plus-minus rating of plus 13, underwent surgery to repair the retina the next day and sat out the last eight games.

"I'm anxious to get back," he said. "It's always tough to be injured, especially at this time of the year. You want to be in there battling with your teammates, but it was an injury that I really couldn't control.

"I had to wait for everything to heal because if you go back too soon you risk the [possibility] of the same thing happening."

Coach Andy Murray is still looking for consistency from rookie left wing Jaroslav Bednar, who was back in the lineup Thursday night against the Detroit Red Wings after being scratched in two of the previous three games.

"He's very capable of being as good as a [Cliff] Ronning or a [Adam] Deadmarsh or those top-level players," Murray said of Bednar, a Slovak who has been up and down with the Kings after leading the Finnish league in goals last season, "but which game's he going to bring? ...

"He's a guy [who] I think in his mental approach works from the glass half empty. I don't know if he totally believes in himself and knows how great he can be, so we try to build him up a little bit and tell him. He needs to feel better about himself."

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