Through Boston's first seven games, Tuukka Rask had played every second in goal amidst their 5-2-0 start. He and San Jose's Antti Niemi have been the only two netminders up until this point in the season to start every contest in nets for their clubs.
The back-to-back, first in Buffalo and then against the Sharks at TD Garden Thursday night, along with a slate of three games in four days (the Bruins host the New Jersey Devils on Saturday) allowed Boston to finally get Johnson into game action.
Chad Johnson was the first goalie off at morning skate, and confirmed afterwards that he would indeed be between the pipes.
"Yeah, I can actually now say that I am getting a start so I’m excited," he said. "It’s been kind of a long wait here for myself to get into some game action. I want to obviously get some games, get comfortable and get into a routine here. So it’s nice to kind of get this rolling here."
Johnson hasn't suited in a game since the 2-0 preseason win over Detroit on September 21. His last regular season NHL action came on April 18, 2013, when he faced the St. Louis Blues as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes.
He may only have 10 career NHL games, but he boasts quality numbers in those matchups, with a .929 save percentage and 1.97 goals-against average.
"We’re looking forward to seeing him win his first game. It’s important for him, it’s important for our hockey team," said Julien, who has enjoyed his goaltender depth since he's been behind the bench with Boston.
"I think it’s important for him to get into some game situations now; it’s been a while since he’s last played. So we need to be extremely good in front of him and help him out there."
"We’ve always had some pretty tough games in this building and I don’t think that’s going to be any different tonight. Unfortunately, it may look like it’s us putting Johnson against a weak team but it’s putting Johnson in against a situation where we’re finally playing our first back-to-back games and we want him to be there for that."
"So it wouldn’t matter which team it was that he would have been playing. And at the same time, again, I think it would be wrong to think that we’re putting him in here because of the team we’re playing against."
Can't Let This One Get Away
The B's are 5-2-0 on the season and though most teams have already played 8-10 games, they have allowed the fewest goals (10) in the league. The closest team is first place San Jose, with 16 goals allowed.
Their 21 "Goals For" don't necessarily rank them near the top of the league, but a balanced attack throughout all four lines and a breakout 5-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday helped spark the Black & Gold's output.
The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are scoring a league worst average of 1.2 goals per game, and have been outscored in first periods, 13-1.
The biggest challenge of the match-up?
"Making sure that we focus on ourselves," said Julien, who knows his team is aware they face the best team in the league in the Sharks Thursday night - but doesn't feel the need to say anything more, given his squad's leadership and veteran presence.
"If you start focusing on the other team and their struggles, then you’re not mentally preparing yourself the way you should. There’s going to be a tough week – we have three games in four days – and it’s not going to get any easier so we might as well take advantage of the situation that we’re fresh and that we’re ready to go here and make sure that we play a strong game."
"Not only to win this hockey game, but build some momentum going into the next one."
Loui Eriksson seems to have that down pat.
"They have a good team and they’ve been struggling, of course, in the beginning here so they’re trying to find their game. Like I said, we’re just going to do the things we’re good at and try to outwork them out there and just play a good game," he said.
"They’re hard-fought games and they have big strong guys that play well and it’ll be a grinding game," said Chris Kelly, who has 49 career games against the Sabres, and has been part of the Boston-Buffalo matchup since arriving in
"That’s the type of game that we’re expecting."
Bruins Continue to be "Measuring Stick"
Whether Buffalo had their tough start to the season or not, this game against Boston would still be serving as a "benchmark" game, as you often hear clubs say when facing the Bruins.
"The top teams in the league, the top teams in the East – we’ve seen some of the best come through already so this is another one of those teams," said Buffalo Head Coach Ron Rolston, prior to the matchup. "The guys have to be prepared no matter who we’re playing but this is a team that offers a lot of challenges because of the depth they have and their competitive nature and the continuity that they’ve had over the years."
When asked to elaborate on the challenges the Bruins pose, the always cerebral Rolston went on to rattle off just that.
"They’re one of the best teams in the league. They’re physical, they’re detailed, they don’t beat themselves and they play the same way from the first minute to the last minute. They just try to wear you down. They have a lot of good hockey players. They’re very deep, good on defense, big on defense and plays. Very good in transition, very good in the offensive zone. I think they’re second or tied for first basically in penalty killing so…should I keep going?"
It brought out a slight bout of laughter from the gathered reporters.
With your team at 1-8-1 to start the season, media availability - if not already - can quickly turn into repetition with preaching the same aspects your club has been working to improve. The answer brought out a lighter moment from those in the press conference room - and certainly showed the Sabres' emphasis on the opportunity their club has to turn things around tonight.
All the more reason for the Bruins to not take this game lightly.
Eriksson and Ott's First Battle
Loui Eriksson and Sabre Steve Ott played together on the Dallas Stars from 2006-12, and tonight will actually mark the first time the wingers have ever played against each other. Ott is slated to play on Buffalo's second line with Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno, so there's a chance their lines could be matched up.
"Sweet Lou?!" said Ott, when I asked if he knew Loui pretty well from Dallas, which prompted a draw out, "Absolutely."
"I was with Loui for a long time. Sweet Lou, sure was. Good kid."
Bruins vs Sabres is part of the NBC Sports Network's "Rivarly Night" series this season, as in the past. As such, the game is an 8:00 p.m. ET start on the network, with the radio broadcast available, as always, through 98.5 The Sports Hub with Dave Goucher and Bob Beers.
It marks the 269th regular season meeting between the two clubs, and the beginning of their 44th season in the same division.
Boston Projected Lineup
Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Jarome Iginla
Reilly Smith-Patrice Bergeron-Loui Eriksson
Carl Soderberg-Chris Kelly-Brad Marchand
Daniel Paille-Gregory Campbell-Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara-Johnny Boychuk
Dennis Seidenberg-Dougie Hamilton/Matt Bartkowski*
Torey Krug-Adam McQuaid
Hamilton took the first round of rushes paired with Seidenberg, while Bartkowski alternated in.
Starter: Chad Johnson
Backup: Tuukka Rask