Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
If the parade of goalies through Buffalo over the past two years wasn't record-breaking, it has to be pretty close. In the 2013-14 season the Sabres dressed an NHL-record 10 goalies for games including goalie coach Arturs Irbe and HARBORCENTER employee Ryan Vinz. Last year five goalies would make an appearance in net--Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth, who were both traded, Anders Lindback, who took on post trade deadline starting duties, plus prospects Andrey Makarov and Nathan Lieuwen.
The well-travelled Chad Johnson, who was acquired from the NY Islanders (along with a 2016 3rd round pick) for Neuvirth at the trade deadline, would have made it six, but he took a shot to the ankle prior to his scheduled March 6th start at Ottawa against the Senators. The "lower-body injury sidelined him for the rest of the season.
Johnson's all that's left of the 16 men in the crease for the Sabres over the last two grueling seasons (save for Vinz,) and he entered training camp as back-up to No. 1 goalie Robin Lehner who was acquired at the draft from Ottawa for the 21st overall pick. Lehner was sidelined in February after suffering a concussion in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes and, like Johnson, hadn't seen action until this preseason.
Lehner got the start (and the 4-0 shutout) last game vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs and with only two preseason games left on the schedule, Johnson will get the start tonight in Minnesota against the Wild.
At 29 yrs. old with and NHL five seasons under his belt as a backup, Johnson knows the drill. “I’m just coming in and trying to take care of what I can,” Johnson said last week. “If I play 30 games 40, 60, whatever it is, that’s to be determined with my play. They bring in a great goalie like Robin Lehner who has played well in the past. We’re trying to push each other and that will help the team be better.”
Yet, opportunity knocks for him.
Up until the Toronto game, Lehner has been less than stellar. Whether it's just rust or possibly lingering concussion issues, the 24 yr. old former second round pick of Ottawa (2009, 46th) looked off. Although Johnson didn't fare that much better in his split-crease appearances, any question marks with a young goalie like Lehner could open up the door for him.
Johnson has the ability as shown during his 2013-14 season in Boston. The Bruins had a stout defense and a strong veteran group of forwards in front of Johnson which lead him to career numbers. He went 17-4-3 with a 2.10 gaa and a .925 sv% and had an 11-1-3 record in the 2014 calendar year. With quality backup work like that, the Bruins gave starter Tuuka Rask plenty of rest and he went on to win the Vezina Trophy that season. Boston won the President's Trophy that season.
Long Island was a far cry from Boston, however, as Johnson was a brutal in a backup role to Jaroslav Halak. He went 8-8-1 with a 3.01 gaa and a paltry .889 save percentage. At the time of the trade Jonathan Willis of he Edmonton Journal called his season in NY a "nightmare" and explained that the team was even worse with him in net than the numbers indicated. "[Johnson's] record doesn’t seem bad until one realizes that the Isles are 33-13-1 when he doesn’t record the decision. He’s been a train wreck, and while he might rebound New York could have been in a very bad position if anything were to happen to starter Halak."
Where Johnson ends up this season remains to be seen and he'll need to overcome a defense in Buffalo that's definitely not as good as Boston's was. And with injuries taking their toll on the blueline this preseason, the d-corps in Buffalo is weaker than the one he had on Long Island.
Despite question marks in net with both goalies as the head in to the preseason having not played in a regular season game in months, the Sabres have a strong group of forwards who are just as good on the back check as they are on offence. It's something that will take some of the pressure off of the defense and goaltending.
When the defense gets fully healthy and the forwards develop chemistry, both Lehner and Johnson could surprise, which would take a little pressure off of Sabres GM Tim Murray who acquired Lehner and chose to keep Johnson in the Blue and Gold.
Until then, Sabres fans might be holding their breath watching the goaltending evolve.