When it was first learned Anton Khudobin chose to move on to a potential better opportunity for playing time with the Carolina Hurricanes, it left a very real vacancy at the backup goaltender position.
There were whispers the Bruins were going to fortify the position with Jose Theodore for some veteran depth, but those turned out to nothing more than hockey rumor mill grist. Instead Boston inked journeymen goalie Chad Johnson for short NHL money on the strength of a dozen NHL games and the full recommendation of the B’s NHL scouting staff. Couple Johnson’s arrival with up-and-coming Swedish goaltender Niklas Svedberg and the Bruins had a couple of viable candidates to five Tuukka Rask the 15-20 games of relief that he’ll need throughout the season.
Unfortunately, things don’t always work out to perfection in training camp and Johnson stumbled pretty spectacularly out of the starting gate. He completely botched the first shot on goal in Montreal that led to a Habs goal for Travis Moen, and ultimately an unsatisfying three goals allowed on eight shots in his first appearance in a Black and Gold uniform.
There were mitigating factors too. Johnson didn’t see a shot until 12 minutes into the game, and that might have contributed to the Louis Leblanc point shot handcuffing his glove hand. There were plenty of power plays as well, and that never really created a flow to the first 30 minutes of what ultimately became a resounding victory for the Bruins.
Johnson was keenly aware the game in Montreal wasn’t exactly putting his best foot forward, but that also must be tempered by it being the first exhibition game of the season.
“It was a tough one, for sure. You want to get into the flow of things, but I didn’t get off to a good start. The first shot I had on me I mishandled the glove, and that wasn’t good. Then there were penalties, so there was never flow to the game as we scrambled along,” said Johnson. “There was no flow to my game, and it showed. I didn’t play the way that I wanted to, obviously. It was disappointing, but you can’t worry about it now while focusing on putting out your best performance in the next game.”
Svedberg, on the other hand, stood out as one of the best players in Tuesday night’s game against the Washington Capitals. He gave up one goal over the final 30 minutes of regulation, five minutes of overtime and then allowed a pair of goals in the shootout session. The young Swedish netminder turned away a Nathan Walker penalty shot during the third period of a 2-1 game while keeping the Bruins in the game, and then stoned Alex Ovechkin on one of his patented rushes down the left wing in overtime while looking for the win.
There was some sentiment that Svedberg still had some development in front of him at the AHL level, but the goaltender himself said he’s ready if it turns into a Finland-Sweden tandem for the Bruins for this season and beyond.
“It was fun to get in there to play with the team in Boston. It was a fun opportunity. Making a couple of saves on [Alex Ovechkin] was fun, but I did let him score on me in the shootout,” said Svedberg. “This is an opportunity for me. My goal coming into camp was to make this team, and nothing else.
“I have been a pro in Sweden for a few years, so to come over here and prove that my game also works over here is big for me. I learned a lot of things last year [with the Providence Bruins] that I hope can help me this year.”
Svedberg admitted it was a little “surreal” to be shutting down guys like Ovechkin in NHL preseason games after watching these players on TV in previous years. But he also said that it wasn’t really any different than trying to shut down national hero Peter Forsberg while playing pro hockey in Sweden.
Peter Chiarelli was asked on Wednesday if he was “alarmed” at what he saw out of Johnson in Montreal, and the GM wouldn’t admit that to the media in training camp even if he didn’t necessarily like what he saw.
“He didn’t see many shots. The first shot obviously he’d like to have back. I can’t remember who shot it, but it was kind of a dribbler [and he] spit out the rebound. So he’s going to get a game, and we’ll see him in full,” said Chiarelli. “No, I wasn’t alarmed. It is an important position. There’s another spot that’s open for competition, and we’ve seen Chad [Johnson] play better.