Chad Johnson’s preparation doesn’t vary whether he’s starting or backing up.
The 29-year old who was acquired by the Sabres at last year’s trade deadline hasn’t had much of an opportunity to show what he could do for the team after suffering an injury shortly after joining Buffalo. That all changed with one simple slide in the crease by Robin Lehner.
Johnson was thrust into the the Sabres’ starting role after Lehner suffered what appears to be a serious leg injury during Buffalo’s opener against the Ottawa Senators. He gave up just one goal against the Senators that night before letting in four against the Tampa Bay Lightning in his first start of the season on Saturday.
But even with a four-goal game in his first start, Johnson has shown that he has the ability and potential to keep the Sabres in games, giving them a chance to succeed.
“I thought he was good,” coach Dan Byslma said of Johnson’s first start of the season. “We made mistakes that made it hard on him, but he gave us a chance to win with the way he played.”
Defensemen Carlo Colaiacovo said that Johnson is a player that will keep his team in games, it’s up to the rest of the guys to make his effort worth while. He couldn’t stop praising the way Johnson played on Saturday, especially in the first period when he had to come up with multiple big saves, including a point blank stop on Tampa’s J.T. Brown.
“Johnny made a lot of big saves for us,” Colaiacovo said. “He had a hell of a game.”
Bylsma also added that Johnson’s shown in practice that he can come up with the big saves when needed; it wasn’t much of a surprise to him nor Johnson himself.
“I felt good the whole way,” Johnson said about what has led to this opportunity. “I’m not happy with letting in four goals (in my first start), but I feel good with my game.”
Johnson has bounced around from team to team over the last few years, making stops in Phoenix, Boston and Long Island before eventually finding his way to Buffalo. He has never had the chance to show what he could do in an NHL starting role, but that doesn’t mean he has been getting ready for this moment.
“I didn’t prepare — I don’t think you prepare — to be a backup goalie,” Johnson said. “I worked hard to make sure my mind and body was right to play a lot of games if that came down. You just practice, you prepare the way I have my whole life.
“It’s playing hard in practice, and carrying it over in the games.”
Johnson is expected to continue to be the man between the pipes in Buffalo for the foreseeable future as, according to team sources, Lehner is expected to miss more than just the two-three weeks many originally expected. Instead, it’s looking more like Lehner could be out of the lineup until early 2016, at least.
Michael is a former Managing Editor for The Hockey Writers. He’s covered the Buffalo Sabres, along with the NHL in general, for various outlets since 2009. His work has been featured on outlets such as Yahoo, Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports.