Johnson: Wraparound goals 'are not a weakness'

Johnson: Wraparound goals 'are not a weakness'
December 20, 2013, 1:30 pm
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WILMINGTON – Chad Johnson is nothing, if not a standup guy.

The 27-year-old backup goaltender was front and center to answer questions after the Bruins fell to the lowly Buffalo Sabres by a 4-2 score on Thursday night at the First Niagara Center, and then again on Friday morning after B’s practice at Ristuccia Arena.

It was entirely appropriate given that Buffalo’s game-winner was a Drew Stafford wraparound goal that Johnson was tardy getting to the post to stop in the third period, and the B’s netminder admitted as much.

“It was one of those saves I wanted back, but there’s nothing I can do about it now. It sucks,” said Johnson. “They were two different situations. It’s not that I have problems with wraparounds, but it’s just what has been happening right now. They’ve scored two goals, so that’s something I have to work on.

“But it’s not a weakness. On the last one [with Stafford] I was a little lazy on it. It’s not really a technical thing I have to correct. You want to get back out there right away, and redeem yourself after a situation like that.”

What’s a little more difficult to deduce is the hue and cry over Johnson’s performance this season. Yes, the backup also gave up a sloppy wraparound goal to the Edmonton Oilers that betrayed a slow reaction time on the play. But the Buffalo goal to Stafford was much more egregious with no other Sabres players posing as a scoring threat around the net.

It was just a soft, bad goal that happens to every NHL goalie from time to time.

But Johnson is also still 6-2 in nine games for the Black and Gold this season, and has a 2.40 goals against average and .911 save percentage.

Those are solid numbers for a backup goalie, and as good as you could expect for a team shelling out $7 million for their franchise netminder. That leaves very little salary cap space for a backup goalie salary, and means the Bruins weren’t going to land the league’s best backup goalie last summer. They scoured through the available free agent goalies, and found a guy in Johnson that was in a very similar spot in his career as Anton Khudobin was the season prior.

So far Johnson has given them about the same level of goaltending as Khudobin from last year, but clearly quickening his body from post-to-post is something he’s going to work on with goalie coach Bob Essensa.

“This is why we have a goalie coach to work with on those deficiencies, and that’s exactly what he was doing today,” said Claude Julien. “He was working with Goalie Bob, and trying to get better at it.”

That’s certainly not up to the standards of a player like Tuukka Rask, but does anybody want to guess who the next five names are trailing Johnson in the NHL’s save percentage department? Jaroslav Halak, Jimmy Howard, Sergei Bobrovsky, Tim Thomas and Henrik Lundqvist all have a lower save percentage this season than “Johnny”, and three of them have Vezina Trophies on their resume.

Clearly Johnson is in a different, lower class than those other five goaltenders.

But the point is clear. He’s winning games and doing his job as a backup netminder, and some of the slow reaction time to the puck is undoubtedly linked to this being his first career stint backing up another goalie.

Johnson won’t make any excuses, but he knows he needs to be a little better while also knowing he’s been pretty good in winning six of the eight starts he’s made this year. He doesn’t know when his next start will be for the Black and Gold, but he’s looking for a big rebound performance rather than coughing up some big rebounds.   

“The position I’m in, you don’t know when you’re going to get your next start,” said Johnson. “I don’t know what my record is, but I think it’s my second loss of the season. It’s disappointing, and I really hate losing.

“But overall I’m pretty happy with [my season]. But I also tend to just look at the last game I played, and my next game coming up. I don’t really worry too much about the whole season. I think it’s about being in the moment.”

If something happened health-wise to Tuukka Rask there’s little doubt the Bruins might call Niklas Svedberg or Malcolm Subban up to Boston as part of the solution, but the Bruins are more than fine with their current goalie situation, wraparound or no wraparound.

Johnson is 6-2 in nine games as the backup goaltender for the B’s, and that’s really the only stat line that matters.