BOSTON (CBS) — The Chad Johnson the Bruins thought they were pursuing when they courted him in the window prior to free agency last summer showed up Saturday night.
And now the battle to be the backup to Tuukka Rask is a little bit clearer with three games remaining in the preseason.
Johnson rebounded from letting up three goals on eight shots in his preseason debut against Montreal last Monday with an 18-save shutout against Detroit Saturday. Johnson wasn’t rattled after the experience against the Canadiens, but obviously it’s reassuring that in his second chance to impress his new team’s brass he put his best foot forward.
“Yeah, I mean, again for myself it’s just focusing on trying to get in good reps and have good games obviously. Montreal, half a game, right? After three months [off from] being in action. So it’s kind of like you don’t really worry too much about that obviously,” he said Sunday after the Bruins held a 30-minute scrimmage at TD Garden. “[Saturday] night I was getting a full game so I knew I could prepare more. There’s an opportunity to kind of get back on the right track. And, yeah, it went well. It’s always good to win and play well obviously.”
After he signed with Boston for $600,000 on a one-year, one-way deal, Johnson arrived at camp as the favorite to replace Anton Khudobin behind Rask on the depth chart. Niklas Svedberg, who was the most outstanding goaltender in the AHL last season, might’ve closed the gap on the 27-year-old Johnson with some better play early in camp, but now it’s clearly Johnson’s job to lose. The 24-year-old Svedberg wouldn’t require waivers to back down to Providence, and extra seasoning for a young, European goaltender couldn’t hurt.
The Bruins are used to having a No. 1 and 1A situation in net. Though that might be less so this season, Rask is still going to need his nights off to preserve him for the postseason. Johnson’s career NHL numbers suggest he might be up to the task, even if he won’t challenge Rask for playing time the way Khudobin did last year or Rask did to Tim Thomas in prior seasons. Johnson has career 1.97 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in 10 games for the New York Rangers and Phoenix Coyotes.
Although Boston teams typically don’t have much to thank New York teams for in any sport, if Johnson works out as Boston’s backup the Bruins will be able to send regards to the Rangers, who helped develop Johnson.
“I think obviously the goalies you’re around and you see, especially coming in if you see a guy who moves a lot, has a lot of depth and moves a lot, you think that’s how you have to be in the NHL. So I think for myself coming in, and having [Henrik] Lundqvist there and obviously [goaltending coach] Benoit Allaire there to really show me how to have success and be consistent, has obviously worked out really well. Especially at this level when things happen so fast and guys have less time, just for me to be in position and use my size, I think it benefits me,” the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Johnson said.
With Lundqvist ensconced in New York’s crease, Johnson barely got a sniff at regular work. In Phoenix last season, Johnson only got into four games (although watching Coyotes star Mike Smith handle the puck might benefit Johnson and the Bruins going forward as well). Once the Bruins were interested in his services, Johnson knew where he wanted to go.
He might not have the pedigree of some of the league’s backups, but neither did Khudobin. Sometimes proving oneself as an NHL goaltender is more about opportunity than ability. Johnson has shown when given chances here and there, and now in his brief time in Boston he’s proven he can bounce back from a minor disaster. These are characteristics that might make him the perfect fit as Boston’s No. 2.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.