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Johnson eager to face his former team

Chad Johnson is ready to face his former club, the Buffalo Sabres, on Tuesday at the Saddledome

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH / CalgaryFlames.com

CALGARY, AB -- That dictum 'No cheering in the press box'?

A baldfaced lie.

Cranky, crook-backed, curmudgeonly, beady-eyed old scribblers always, but always, rah-rah/siss-boom-ba for the easy, ready-made storyline.

Chad Johnson, bless him, grasps the concept; seems fully invested in playing his part when called upon.

Tuesday night as a for-instance.

"Should be fun,'' acknowledged the Calgary-reared puck-stopper, a day away from his Saddledome regular-season debut pitting him against his previous employers, the Buffalo Sabres.

 "First game, old team.

"Good memories, good experiences there.

"And it sets it up good for you guys to write a story. But me, I prepare the same way.

"My focus is the same.

"I don't change anything. I don't over-analyze anything. I just practice and prepare and battle.

"It's pretty simple.

"It's exciting for you guys, though. You guys are here, like, every day so you need … something.

"I know how it is. Seriously."

The Calgary Flames go in search of their first win of the new coaching regime Tuesday, and Chad Johnson finally finds himself where he's dreamed about being since ball hockey days back on the cul-de-sac of Deer Ridge Place, SE back in the early-to-mid-90s.

In net wearing the the Flaming C at the Scotiabank Saddledome in a game that matters.

"I'm looking forward to it,'' he joked. "I have a lot of former teams.

"So I have a lot of practice in this situation and use it as motivation."

Johnson graded out excellent in his first official start wearing the colours on Saturday, stopping 30 shots through regulation and OT in 2-1 SO loss against the Canucks at Rogers Arena.

Video: Johnson on possible start against the Sabres

"I thought he was tremendous in Vancouver,'' critiqued Flames' coach Glen Gulutzan. "I just told him that. Very calm. In the shootout, he gave us a chance. In overtime, killing the penalty he made a big save off his shoulder with about 50 seconds left.

"And made them look easy.

"That's when you know a goalie is in his element when the goalie is calm and makes the saves look easy."

"I felt good,'' Johnson sad. "But I felt good all pre-season. As I said before, though, sometimes in pre-season you get weird bounces and weird games.

"I think I was prepared coming in for camp, for pre-season. I thought my focus is where it needed to be."

There'll be few surprises Tuesday for Johnson, only a season removed from putting up stellar numbers - a 22-16-4 record, 2.36 GAA and .920 save percentage - in his only season on the eastern shores of Lake Erie, in western New York.

"Johnnie?'' says Sabres' No. 1 Robin Lehner, whose early-season ankle injury a year ago opened the door for Johnson to step in and excel. "He's 100 percent going to be a success here. He's an elite goaltender.

"He's been in the shadows a little bit but he's a very technically sound goalie with very good hands and good reactions.

"For me, going through the big injury, he did a good job. He's a very, very good guy, too. Just a nice guy. We talked a lot, exchanged ideas. We worked very well together.

"A good goalie partner to have. Definitely."

A one-year contract, along with the opportunity to return home, brought the 30-year-old Johnson back to where the love of the game was instilled.

It ain't gonna be easy.

Even missing the injured Jack Eichel and Evander Kane, Buffalo sent up a warning flare, dismantling the Oilers 6-2 at Rogers Place on Sunday evening.

"I watched. That's a well-coached team,'' acknowledges Johnson. "They have good structure, good systems and the guys have been together as a group for a little bit now.

"I know last year they definitely found their way later in the season, we were a really good team with a lot of wins at the end.

"They have a good fourth line with (Nicolas) Deslauriers. They like to get the puck in deep, they're fast and hit bodies. (Ryan) O'Reilly, so skilled. And (Kyle) Okposo's there. The D corps is strong, balanced. (Rasmus) Ritsolianen, I think everybody knows about him from last year, really offensive.

"They're deep and play hard.

"You have everybody talking about where they think teams are going to be. The experts. It's their job to do that - give their opinions.

"(The Sabres) could be right there one of those teams that makes a push. You look at their lineup, there's six good D-men there, four strong lines and lots of skill. When Eichel and Kane get back …

"And with Lehner in net, they're strong.

"It comes down to learning how to win. Just like our group. It's one thing having the skill and good players. You have to learn how to win."

Among those aiding his development during the year in Buffalo, Johnnson singles out Sabres' goaltending coach Andrew Allen, calling him "a big part of my game."

That admiration is reciprocal.

"Chad Johnson,'' says Allen, as the Sabres trooped off the ice following at 2:30 skate at the 'Dome, "is the same every day he comes to the rink, and that's what makes him a really great pro. Doesn't matter the situation. He comes in, has a great poise to his body language and just does his job.

"What's why we could put him into any situation last year, coming off the bench and in a starter's role after Lehner got hurt. He's just that type of pro.

"To me, his biggest strength is his edge work. His patience on his edges allows him to get into position and not guess.

"He gets there, gets square to pucks and it basically puts him in position to make a save on every shot.

"We obviously wanted him back in Buffalo but this is a great fit for Chad, coming home, family-wise.

"But, definitely, he was a lot of fun for me to work with."

Despite missing the playoffs, Johnson enjoyed himself, too.

"The whole team is close there. Everybody was together. You went out as a group, hung out as a group and there was never that single guy on his own, who didn't fit in.

"You came to the rink everybody talked, everybody joked. It wasn't like one guy was above anybody else."

Tuesday night, though, Johnson hopes to be that one guy above everyone else.

His first home start in the Flaming C silks. His family in the pews. His Buffalo pals in the house.

One of easy, ready-made storylines cranky, crook-backed, curmudgeonly, beady-eyed old scribblers always root for.

"It's a big night for me,'' admits Johnson, ready to play his part.

"It's a big game for our team.

"I think as a group we played a better game in Vancouver and that helps me out, everybody out, when we play together, as a group.

"We obviously didn't get what we wanted out of it, the extra point there.

"But it's a process, we're only three games in and we want to build off that."

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