It was a milestone of sorts for backup goalie Chad Johnson, turning aside 38 of 39 Carolina shots to post his first victory as a member of the Blues in Tuesday’s 4-1 triumph.
“It’s just nice to get the first one out of the way,” Johnson said. “It was big for our team. I just wanted to come in and be solid with my game, try and get the two points, and it worked out for us.”
He was all that and more against the Hurricanes. He tracked the puck well, limited rebounds, and although Carolina didn’t have a ton of prime scoring chances, he made the big saves when called upon.
So did he commemorate the night by saving a puck from the game?
As a veteran who’s played in at least parts of nine NHL seasons, Johnson’s enthusiasm for that was, uh, lukewarm at best.
“I’ve played for a lot of teams, so I have a lot of first wins,” Johnson said. “Sometimes I save them. I might get a puck here, I’m not even sure.”
Then, as if debating himself, he concluded: “Probably not. Ryan (O’Reilly) got the hat trick, he can have it.”
The Blues have one of the lightest early-season schedules of anyone in the National Hockey League. Only Florida has played fewer games (11) than the Blues’ 13.
So opportunities for playing time have been scarce for Johnson, 32, who has appeared in regular-season games for the New York Rangers, the then-Phoenix Coyotes, Boston Bruins, New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames and now the Blues. All after being drafted in the fifth round by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006.
Memento or not, Johnson’s work against Carolina had to be reassuring for Blues fans who might have wondered why the team would sign a goalie who posted a 3.55 goals-against average and a .891 save percentage last season for the Sabres.
That easily was Johnson’s worst season statistically in the NHL, but he was playing for the NHL’s worst team — the Sabres finished with a mere 62 points. Entering last season, his career numbers were better than those of last year’s Blues backup, Carter Hutton, and not far off Jake Allen’s.
“We’ve typically been a place where goalies can come in and do very well,” coach Mike Yeo said. “That’s why Chad signed here. So we’ve gotta shore up our game ... when we get real strong or solid in our defensive game, then we’ll give those guys a chance every night.”
In four games this season, two in relief of Allen, Johnson has a 2.47 goals-against average and a save percentage of .919.
Blues players were watching video Wednesday morning at Enterprise Center when informed by the coaching staff that practice had been called off for the day. Some instructions were attached.
“No practice,” said forward Ivan Barbashev, “(but) it would be a real good thing to do something as a team, like a workout or just some fun. I think it’s a good decision, to be honest.”
The result was a game of two-touch soccer on the floor of Enterprise. The idea of the game is to keep the ball in the air.
“If it hits the ground, the last guy who touched it, he’s out,” Barbashev said. “It was fun.”
After a couple of tough losses, a tough game Tuesday against Carolina, and all sorts of speculation — including plenty involving the head coach’s job security — Yeo decided to hit the pause button.
“There’s been a lot of emotion lately,” he said. “You can see in parts of our game sometimes, you can almost see some hesitation, just not quite as quick. So just kind of a mental reset day. Get the guys a chance to recover from last night and get prepared for a good, hard practice tomorrow.”