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Thursday, December 5, 2002
Allison ahead of schedule

By E.J. Hradek
ESPN The Magazine

On Oct. 29, when Jason Allison of the Kings went down grabbing his right knee after a nasty (and controversial) collision with oversized Atlanta defenseman Andy Sutton, LA's management and fans held their collective breath.

Jason Allison
Center
Los Angeles Kings
Profile
2002-2003 SEASON STATISTICS
GM G A PTS +/- PIM
9 4 7 11 2 12

Both groups knew the same simple fact: The Kings couldn't afford to lose Allison for the season.

Fortunately, less than 24 hours later, an MRI offered some relief. The big center hadn't torn his anterior cruciate ligament, which would have forced season-ending reconstructive surgery. Rather, he suffered a sprained ACL and a less serious tear in his medial collateral ligament.

At the time, Allison was expected to miss two to three months.

But, through the miracle of modern medicine and some good old-fashioned hard work, Allison could be back in uniform some 2½ weeks early when the Kings host the Predators on Thursday night.

The 27-year-old Allison, who started full-contact practice drills on Sunday, will meet with team doctors prior to the game for one final exam. On Wednesday night, a team official told The Morning Skate that Allison was "probable" for the meeting with the Preds.

Clearly, this is great news for the club, which must have their star center if they're going to compete for their first Western Conference title since 1993. Without Allison, coach Andy Murray challenged his team to step up. And, considering the loss, they did just that, going a respectable 5-5-2-3 without their best offensive player.

Allison's return comes at a good time in the schedule. The Kings' next three games include a pair of tilts against the Predators and a meeting with the Blue Jackets. These games against recent expansion teams will provide Allison an opportunity to work his way back into game shape before the schedule turns a bit tougher.

Now, if Allison and the rest of the Kings can stay healthy (yes, that means you Adam Deadmarsh and Ziggy Palffy), they'll be a tough nut to crack come playoff time.

Still waiting ...
When the Flames host the Wild on Thursday night in Calgary, you can expect interim coach Al MacNeil to again be behind the bench. On Friday (hopefully), the club will name one of the following candidates: Saint John Flames coach Jim Playfair, ex-Sharks, Pens and Devils benchmeister Kevin Constantine or recently-fired Sharks coach Darryl Sutter, who is the longshot of the trio. GM Craig Button's first choice would be Playfair, but others above Button on the Flames' masthead would prefer someone with previous NHL head coaching experience.

E.J. Hradek writes hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com.