BOSTON (CBS) – Prior to making a start for the Bruins on the road against the Dallas Stars last Thursday, Chad Johnson hadn’t begun a game in the crease for nearly a month.
In the dating world, if you don’t get a call for that long, you’re probably no longer dating. But the Bruins have now shown Johnson that they’re not on the cusp of breaking up with him. And he’s reciprocated their love with two solid performances in the Bruins’ past three games.
Following up on his 32-save victory against the Stars, Johnson handled the second half of the Bruins’ back-to-back against the past two Stanley Cup champions Monday with the type of poise and skill the Bruins expect out of their backup goaltenders.
Johnson made 21 saves on 23 shots in a 3-2 victory against the Los Angeles Kings at TD Garden. The win gave the Bruins, who lost in a shootout at Chicago on Sunday, three out of a possible four points against the Kings (2012 Cup champs) and Blackhawks (2013 champs).
In his month between starts, Johnson, who is now 8-3-0 with a 2.24 goals-against average and .918 save percentage, wasn’t completely idle. He made two relief appearances when Tuukka Rask was pulled. But a start that might’ve normally gone to Johnson went to Providence (American Hockey League) starter Niklas Svedberg because the Bruins wanted to give the prospect a look at the sport’s highest level.
What makes Johnson a solid No. 2 netminder, however, is that he didn’t let any of the things he couldn’t control disappoint him or distract him from his goal of staying ready and aiding the Bruins’ pursuit of two points when he again got a start. In fact, this was his Zen-like response about how he handled the confusing time between Dec. 19 and Jan. 15.
“I don’t know, I just sort of treat everything like nothing.” That’s a phrase many goaltenders, and players in general, might want to stencil onto the wall of their lockers.
He then continued: “I don’t look too much into things. I know when I was younger, and my first couple years I was up and down, and you kind of over-think things and it gets into your game. So for me, I kind of just treat everything like day by day. I don’t look far ahead or too much into things. And I think just with this organization too, how much communication they have with me and what their plans are with me from playing. And they bring [Svedberg] up and why they do that, it obviously makes me more comfortable knowing where they stand and what the routine’s going to be. But it’s tough not playing, but sometimes that’s how it easy. You’ve got Tuukka over here and you’ve got the schedule, sometimes it’s spread out.”
There’s a balance between being disappointed that you’re not playing and rocking the boat. Johnson strikes it perfectly, and that’s what makes him the perfect understudy for this Bruins team. Rask has to get the bulk of his game, based on him being in the prime of his career and the money Boston is paying him. They need someone that can stay ready, play well enough to win behind a perennially stingy defense, and be a solid citizen.
After he played 10 total NHL games during three of the past four seasons, Johnson’s finally getting a chance to live the NHL life full-time. He’s pleased, but not satisfied. At 27 years old, if he performs well in his cameos, he could land somewhere down the road where his role would be expanded. So he puts in the extra work at practice. He handles the pressure of coming on in relief, when the team obviously isn’t playing well and poor play in net could turn a game that’s getting away from the Bruins into a lopsided disaster. And when he’s asked to start, he goes about his business and puts up numbers that make him the envy of many teams that suffer a larger drop-off between their starter and their backup.
There’s no telling what the immediate future holds. Johnson could break under the pressure of playing sporadically. The Bruins could wake up one morning and decided to go in a different direction. But based on his performance in 13 appearances in the 2013-14 season, Johnson is the perfect fit for the Bruins’ goaltending duo.