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Pro Hockey | KING REPORT

Johnson Returns to Lineup

April 07, 2002|Jerry Crowe

The Kings' injury list was blank. Nobody was under suspension.

For the first time all season, everybody was available to play Saturday night against the Edmonton Oilers, including left wing Craig Johnson, cleared to return after sitting out eight games because of an eye injury.

"Obviously, we've got some decisions to make," Coach Andy Murray said before the game. "You'd like to play with as set a lineup as you could and that's our plan. Obviously, individual performances dictate how you handle that."

The most pressing lineup issue Saturday was the reinsertion of Johnson, who had surgery March 19 to repair a torn right retina.

On the one hand, "he's been a very good player for us this year, very efficient," Murray said. "He can play a number of different roles."

On the other, he hadn't played in nearly three weeks and inserting Johnson would mean scratching Jaroslav Bednar or Ken Belanger, both of whom played well in Thursday night's 3-0 victory against the Detroit Red Wings.

"It's tough," Murray said. "Before the Detroit game, I couldn't wait for Craig Johnson to get back in the lineup. I kept telling our trainers, 'We've got to have him in there for Detroit.' And now we played pretty well and you come back and you say, 'Can we give him a couple more days and have him ready for [Monday]?'"

In the end, he used him against the Oilers. Bednar was scratched.

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Brad Chartrand played so well centering the Kings' checking line while Eric Belanger was sidelined for 21/2 months because of a wrist injury that when Belanger returned to the lineup last week, Murray did not reunite him with linemates Ian Laperriere and Mikko Eloranta.

"You could switch Eric there for Brad Chartrand," the coach said, "but I'm a little hesitant because I think Chartrand is playing very well and I think that line's been as good a unit as we've had the last two or three months."

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Jerry Crowe

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