On July 1st, the Islanders signed Chad Johnson to a 2 year contract worth 1.3 million dollars per season. After his signing and the signing of Jaroslav Halak earlier in the summer, fans and the organization alike thought they had finally solved the goalie problem that had haunted the team for years. Most were referring to this tandem as the best the Islanders have had in over a decade. While Halak struggled at first, he has proved to be everything the organization thought he would be and then some. Meanwhile, Johnson has struggled for the better part of the entire season but has yet to figure it out like Halak has.
His Play Thus Far
Johnson has started 10 games for the Islanders so far this season. In that time, he is 5-5 and has managed a 3.54 GAA and an .867 save percentage. He has struggled severely in most of his starts this season, usually being bailed out by the Islanders potent offense. One of the more telling signs of his lackluster play and the coaches dwindling faith in him came last weekend when Jack Capuano played Jaroslav Halak in a back to back against the Red Wings and Lightning, something Capuano has rarely done in his time with the Islanders. While he showed improvement in his last start versus Montreal on Tuesday, it wasn’t enough to get the team their fifth straight victory. However, it was his best performance since his first start of the season against the Bruins in October. That hopefully served as a confidence booster for him and could be something that he is able to build on going forward.
If the Islanders decided to go another direction in the backup role, their likely first choice would be Kevin Poulin. Poulin, who was a fifth round pick by the Islanders back in 2008 has 49 games of NHL experience in his career but has never really had much success. His most recent time with the Islanders came last year when he formed 1/3 of the worst goalies in the NHL along with Evgeni Nabokov and Anders Nilsson. Last season, Poulin managed to put up a 3.29 GAA and a .891 save percentage. While that would actually be an improvement over Johnson’s play at the moment, the team is right to continue to go with Johnson and let Poulin keep excelling in the AHL. This season, through 20 games in the AHL with Bridgeport, Poulin is off to the best start of his career. Poulin has managed to put a 2.41 GAA and a .928 save percentage so far this season. If he is able to continue with that play, it would likely be the best statistical season of his professional career. Could this be a sign that he is now ready for the NHL? Or is it a mirage? If Johnson doesn’t improve, we may find out sooner rather than later.
What I think will Happen
As frustrating as it is, I think the Islanders will give Johnson many more attempts to try to revert back to the goalie he was last season. Johnson wasn’t one of the league’s top backups last year on accident. While backup goalies can be erratic from year to year kind of like relief pitchers in baseball, they usually don’t fall off in the manner Johnson has. With that said, if Johnson continues to struggle past the all-star break and near the trade deadline, the Islanders may begin to look at other options because as they have shown, after all these years, winning is finally a priority.