BUFFALO – After winning two games in a four-day span, doubling his season total, Sabres goalie Chad Johnson will likely take a back seat again to Robin Lehner tonight in Ottawa.
Lehner loves facing the Senators, his old team, and is 5-0-2 against them since joining the Sabres in 2015. A terrific outing could convince a playoff contender searching for a netminder – hello, Philadelphia! – to pursue the Swede.
With Lehner, 26, on a one-year contract and goalie prospect Linus Ullmark ready to graduate to regular NHL duty next season, there’s a strong possibility the Sabres will deal their starter before the Feb. 26 trade deadline.
But what about Johnson’s future? The backup signed a one-year deal to return to the Sabres on July 1 and will be an unrestricted free agent following the season.
Johnson could be an attractive and cheap option for teams looking to add a goalie – starter or backup – for the stretch run.
While Johnson, 31, has endured a rough season – it took him three months to earn his second win – his body of work over previous years is strong.
A year ago, Johnson went 11-2-0 over a 13-game stretch with his hometown Calgary Flames. Two years ago, he morphed into the Sabres’ unsung hero subbing for an injured Lehner, winning 22 games while posting a sparkling .920 save percentage.
Overall this season, Johnson has compiled poor numbers – 4-9-3 with a 3.54 goals-against average and an .886 save percentage – in 21 appearances.
“I took a chance coming to the Sabres this year on a one-year deal, had a lot of opportunity to go different places, but I believed in this team, the organization, and that’s why I came back here,” Johnson said Wednesday inside KeyBank Center. “Obviously, as an organization, it hasn’t gone the way we wanted to, and personally, it hasn’t gone the way I wanted to.”
Still, since earning his second win Jan. 22 in Calgary, Johnson has performed well in four games, posting numbers – 2.49 and .917 – in line with his career totals.
“He’s just been solid, square to the puck, there’s no wasted motion, he’s letting pucks hit him, he’s very confident back there,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said. “I think the games before that he wasn’t getting the results.”
Johnson stopped 26 shots in Tuesday’s 5-3 win against Tampa Bay and 25 shots in Saturday’s 4-2 victory in Boston, performances that possibly increased his value.
“Getting two games, even after getting two days off, I definitely felt like my preparation, just the flow of things is obviously a little easier,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who’s received little support from the last-place Sabres, has been adamant all season he feels good about his game.
“Statistical results, I don’t think totally (show) how a goalie’s performance is, that’s just how it is,” he said. “I just trust what I’ve done and the success that I’ve had doing what I’ve been doing.”
Sabres winger Kyle Okposo said: “You got to have a short-term memory as a goalie. Things haven’t been all roses for him this year, we haven’t played very well in front of him for the majority of the year. He’s just kind of stuck with it and stuck with his plan and gone about his business.”
Johnson has already played for six NHL teams. He said he hasn’t thought much about his future with the Sabres.
“Most importantly, I want to play, and then secondly, I want to win,” he said of what he looks for when choosing a team. “That’s always been where my loyalty stands. For me, I’ve worked hard to get where I’m at. I owe that to myself to really put myself in a situation to do that, I think everybody does. But I love the organization, I love the team here. I came back.”
If Lehner leaves, Johnson could start the bulk of the remaining games. If he plays well, perhaps the Sabres would consider re-signing him to play behind Ullmark.