Johnson excited to have a shot as Rask's backup

Johnson excited to have a shot as Rask's backup
October 1, 2013, 2:15 pm
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Chad Johnson gets his first start for the Bruins against the Sabres in Buffalo.

(AP Photo)

It probably didn’t start out the way that he’d envisioned, but Chad Johnson finished as the last masked man standing in the B’s training camp goaltending derby.

Some of the decision was based on his performance in shutting out the Detroit Red Wings in his one full game with the Black and Gold, some of it was based on 24-year-old Niklas Svedberg needing more development time at the AHL level, and some of it was based on the fact that Boston could have lost an affordable ($600,000 cap hit) goalie via waivers if they’d tried to tuck him away in Providence.

For all these reasons -- and probably a couple more not even listed -- Johnson will be on the opening night roster, and will start the season as Tuukka Rask’s backup.

He didn't have an easy start to training camp. He gave up three goals on eight shots in his first appearance against the Canadiens, but he showed nice resiliency in bouncing back from that early misstep. Johnson also watched Svedberg look pretty close to perfect in his two preseason appearances, but that competition seemed to bring out the best in Johnson, a Calgary native.

“Obviously I’ve been in and out of this league for a while, and to be able to crack this organization at the start of the year is a huge step for me. It’s a great team and I’m glad to be a part of it,” said Johnson. “I started off slow, but over camp I improved and feel great now. It was a tough camp. Svedberg played great too, and we were battling for that spot.

“To have that over with, and for me to be starting the season here is a good thing. But the easy part is over, and now comes the tough part with bearing down during the regular season.”

Johnson has only 10 games of NHL experience with a .929 save percentage and a 1.97 goals against average during that time. So the numbers are excellent and actually similar to former Bruins goalie Anton Khudobin before he got his shot as Tuukka Rask’s backup last season. The Bruins can only hope he pans out in the same way.

Johnson had previously bounced back and forth between the NHL and AHL in both the Coyotes and Rangers organizations, but never really got a shot to back up either Mike Smith or Henrik Lundqvist. The 27-year-old finally has his chance and will probably play somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-25 games based on Claude Julien’s goalie rotation tendencies.

“I felt I’ve always played well at the NHL level, but I’ve always been caught in a numbers game in prior situations," Johnson said. "To play behind Tuukka and be here to play backup is a good opportunity for me to establish myself. I want to play as many games as I can here. My role is to give Tuukka a rest whenever he needs it, and I’m excited no matter how many games that turns out to be.”

Bruins coach Claude Julien indicated that there was no master plan for playing time between Rask and Johnson, but one would have to expect that since Rask is the NHL’s highest paid goalie -- tied with Pekka Rinne with a $7 million salary per season -- would punch in for at least 60 games.

“I’m not a coach that kind of says, ‘Okay, you have so many games.’ Like I do with the team, I also look at my goaltenders [that way],” said Julien. “Sometimes [the starter] looks like he’s fresh, and other times he may look tired. I’d rather make that decision then to look too far ahead.

“That’s not to say that during that week, I say, ‘Well maybe we can use him for these games, and we’ll use the other goaltender for those ones.’ I do those things, but I don’t necessarily stick to them as if it’s carved in stone. I like to make decisions based on what I see and feel, and what I think is right.”

Since the Bruins have been near the top in goals against average and save percentage each and every season, Julien’s system of rotating goaltender is clearly something that he and his coaching staff are doing right.

They have to hope that continues with Rask and Johnson for the 2013-14 season, but they also know that Niklas Svedberg is waiting at the AHL level should he be needed during the season.