Johnson Shines in Coyotes Debut, Leads Team to Victory over Nashville
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Two weeks ago, Johnson was sitting in the Portland Pirates (AHL) dressing room in Portland, Maine, and had to be wondering whether he would ever get the call back up to the NHL.
When Coyotes goalie Mike Smith went down last week with a lower-body injury, Johnson was called up to back up the Coyotes current backup goaltender, Jason LaBarbera.
LaBarbera struggled in his starts with the Coyotes, giving up a two-goal third-period lead to lose to San Jose last Thursday 5-3 and giving up two goals that he probably wished he had back in a 4-2 loss to Los Angeles on Saturday. LaBarbera's goals-against average for the season is 3.26, and his save percentage is a below-average .897 after three games, which led Coyotes coach Dave Tippett to consider juggling his lineup.
Tippett went with Johnson Monday night, as he claimed he was trying to give the team a spark (according to Sarah McLellan of azcentral.com). He felt that the team needed to play better defense and that his goalie needed to make more saves. Both happened Monday night, as the Coyotes played better defense and limited the quality of Nashville's opportunities, and Johnson was solid when he needed to be.
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The Coyotes continued their torrid offensive play as well. Goals by Antoine Vermette, Lauri Korpikoski, Nick Johnson and Keith Yandle against a very good goalie in Nashville's Pekka Rinne allowed the Coyotes to continue their streak of scoring two goals or more in every game this season. This is the fifth time in six games the Coyotes scored three goals or more, and the third time they have topped four goals or more this season.
If the Coyotes continue their offensive prowess, capitalizing on opportunities while playing in a defensively responsible manner like they did Monday night against the Predators, they will put together a winning streak rather quickly and close the gap on their Western Division foes
The goaltending from Johnson was the prescription the Coyotes needed to build some confidence, and the way the team played Monday night should give the fans some hope that the freewheeling play of the first five games was an anomaly and that this physically active, defense-first philosophy is what lies in wait for those who choose to enter the Den this season.
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