Allison emerging as leader

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

Jason Allison swears the story is true.

Once, during training camp with the Los Angeles Kings, he was the second-fastest skater from goal line to goal line.

Speed, however, is not how the Maple Leafs centre is going to beat you if you are an NHL opponent. Allison's critics always come back to his skating, saying he is too slow. But that would be missing the point.

Slowing the game down is one of Allison's best assets. Protecting the puck is another, and with the enforcement of new rules in full swing early in the 2005-06 NHL season, big men such as Allison and Eric Lindros have benefited.

"That's how I judge my game at the end of the night," Allison said after the Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 on Saturday for their third win in a row.

"It's not my production or points or whatever, it's if I am controlling the play and making things happen. When my game is going good, I am slowing it down and making the right decision, finding guys late and holding the puck for that extra second or two."

Allison noted that Wayne Gretzky rarely blew past people, but then added with a smile that he was not comparing himself to Gretzky.

It's a quality that is not lost on Leafs coach Pat Quinn, who was an NHL defenceman in a previous life. Quinn used to have fits trying to get a bead on Phil Esposito, who wasn't fleet but oozed craftiness.

"I used to play against Espo all the time to try to nullify him, but you could never get at the puck," Quinn said. "He had his big fat rear in the way.

"Everybody wants to push guys who might appear to be slower or play at a pace that is different from the high pace that you are supposed to envision in this game. But it is a pace (Allison) can play well."

Allison was down on himself late last week but, after putting pressure on himself, had an explosive weekend. He scored his first two goals as Leaf in the wins against the Atlanta Thrashers and Canadiens, and had three assists versus Atlanta.

Both Allison and Lindros are making Leafs fans forget that captain Mats Sundin won't be back in the lineup any time soon because of a fractured orbital bone. Allison has two goals and six assists in six games; Lindros has five goals and two assists in six games.

Quinn has been just as happy with Allison's attention to defence.

"Jason has shown a responsibility away from the puck that you sometimes take for granted," Quinn said. "I appreciate how he approaches that part of the game. I feel good about him continuing to be an important player for us."


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