Boston Bruins backup goaltender Chad Johnson, who arrived over the summer on a one-year pact, has needed less than a month to double his sample size from the previous seven-and-a-half weeks. That was precisely what he did beginning on Nov. 30 and running through this past Thursday, making four starts and putting in an additional appearance in that span.
The more ink he puts on his transcript, the more Johnson can control whether he remains a rental or earns a renewal for the 2014-15 season. Going into this campaign, it looked like he would be little more than a bridge-year backup while Niklas Svedberg spent most of 2013-14 grooming his game in Providence.
In the wake of what one could arguably declare his first real dud in eight starts, Johnson naturally has ample time to garner an extension with the Bruins. However, he will likely need a little outside help in the form of stunted growth on Svedberg’s part.
He will also need to prove he can curb an influx of negativity if and when his workload increases over the remaining 46 games on Boston’s regular-season schedule. The first reckonable blemish on his burgeoning Bruins transcript is the reason why it is now worth watching his progress on a swivel between the present and the long run.
Johnson reached exactly 500 minutes of action in 2013-14 this past Thursday, when he brooked the albatross in a 4-2 letdown versus Buffalo. After the Bruins spilled a 2-1 lead late in the second period, he let two additional goals slip by 80 seconds apart in the third to finalize the falter.
The deciding strike, inserted by Drew Stafford with 5:41 to spare in regulation, sparked particular fascination due to its exact execution. Stafford’s homeward-bound wraparound shot made a motif out of recent goals laced past Johnson from behind his cage.
The fact that he let the resultant deficit double a mere minute and 20 seconds thereafter does not amount to a warning but rather a watch. Will he be more psychologically sound on future occasions when he must rapidly recover from a less-than-ideal play or game?
Whether he is or is not could be the 27-year-old, five-year professional veteran journeyman’s key to churning out roughly the same results he has charged up to date.
That, in turn, figures to make the difference in his attempts to ensure an extended tenure in Boston. After all, Svedberg will not be his only competition if any established NHL backups should surface on the market between now and July.
A month ago, Johnson was garnering solid reviews for translating patience to results. His appearances and, at times, his distribution of shots faced in those appearances were quite sparse, but he was 3-1-0 after backstopping an overtime win against the Hurricanes on Nov. 23.
With nine setbacks on his first 108 opposing stabs, he boasted a so-so .917 save percentage and 2.21 goals-against average to go with that 3-1-0 start. But the main point was that he was giving Tuukka Rask relief and doing enough to help the Bruins repress their ostensibly weaker adversaries more often than not.
After that Carolina game, head coach Claude Julien told Boston Globe reporter Amalie Benjamin, “…that’s what you want from your second goaltender is that he can go in there and allow you to win some games. So far, he’s done a pretty good job despite the fact that he’s had some long breaks in between those games.”
Going forward, the challenge at hand may be turning 180 degrees. Johnson’s trick could soon be turning in stable, NHL-caliber goaltending despite a series of quick turnarounds between starts, a task he has hardly experienced to date at this level.
The reason for this is that the Bruins would be nothing but wise to lighten Rask’s workload this winter. Between the entire five-month sprint that was the 2012-13 regular season and playoffs and now this season, the No. 1 netminder has played 86 games in the year 2013.
The coming months will most likely bring Rask an overseas odyssey and more game action with the Finnish Olympic team on top of his ongoing NHL campaign. If they are to ensure a stable backstopping backbone by the 2014 postseason, the Bruins simply need to rest Rask with more frequency.
Odds are that will, at some point, entail giving Svedberg at least one or two feet-wetting, authentic looks in The Show. How soon that happens is anyone’s guess, especially since Svedberg has been somewhat erratic since early November.
Other than that, though, the bulk of the backup duties shall fall unto Johnson, who is one outing away from doubling the 10 NHL career appearances he carried into this season.
Granted, he is at worst barely bending right now. His last four decisions have matched the rate of his first four to give him a 6-2-0 record, coupled with a 2.40 GAA and .911 save percentage. Where he stands on Dec. 22 is only a mild drop-off from where he was on Nov. 23.
If one is going strictly by the opponent at hand, then his 30-save performance in a 5-2 win at Toronto two weeks ago is the gem of his game log. In terms of full-length, 60-minute shifts, the Maple Leafs are the only team Johnson has engaged so far this season that have the look of a stable playoff contender.
Still, the fact remains that his choppier performance in Buffalo is the freshest additive to his resume; therefore, the questions are ready to hang up and hover indefinitely.
Johnson certainly need not scramble to fix every flaw in his repertoire. But after making the most out of very little to prop his door open to the future, he now must brace himself for a potentially accelerated workload.
If he is to emerge from that with favorable reviews and sustained candidacy for Boston’s 2014-15 roster, he must formulate a way to minimize back-breaking moments like that 80-second sequence in Buffalo.
With barely a week-plus before 2013 morphs into 2014, New England puckheads can chalk that up as a new storyline to track in the New Year.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com and are through games of Sunday, December 22.
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