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Johnson gets the nod in net vs. St. Louis

It will be Chad Johnson in net tonight when the Flames host the Blues

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH / CalgaryFlames.com

CALGARY, AB -- Saturday's morning bone to chew on was seated in his stall, first on the right-hand side of the inner sanctum upon entering, practice jersey peeled off, red pads still on, kibitzing with old Missouri pals Tony Twist and Kelly Chase, part of the St. Louis Blues' broadcast team.

Down the opposite end of the row, Chad Johnson had a big head-start on exiting the Scotiabank Saddledome.

"Tough question. You want to play good against your old team,'' reasoned Brian Elliott, post catch-up chat, squaring himself to the hovering media shooters. "Turns out I didn't get the opportunity today.

"I can't get hung up on it.

"Just try and give our guys as many tips as I can to beat the other guy."

That 'other guy' just happens to be the St. Louis Blues, Elliott's most-recent former employers.

In a decision that left a lot of tongues wagging and eyebrows prodigiously arched down at the 'Dome, Johnson, sharp in his brief Flames' stint so far, was conscripted to face Tarasenko, Pietrangelo, Steen, Stastny, Shattenkirk, et al.

The pre-morning skate thinking was that the very sight of the 3-1-1 Blues, however formidable an opponent, might just prove to be the tonic to launch Elliott to greater heights in these the formative days of his Calgary experience.

Instead, Johnson makes his third start of the season.

"Brian's a pro,'' said Johnson. "A great goalie. But he doesn't need anybody to tell him that.

"It's your guys' job to over-analyze things, break things down. You get paid to do it, right?

"When I was younger, I tended to get caught up in all the outside stuff. It's something I wish I could go back and tell my younger self: Don't read the newspapers, don't over-analyze. Just come in, prepare, practice hard, play hard if called upon.

"That's it. Your job.

"You can't think about what you did last year, where you're going to be next year, what your stats were or are. Even what happened, good or bad, the game before. 

"When you're younger, you beat yourself up with, 'Why am I not playing now? Why's he in there? What did I do wrong?'

"At the end of the day, who really knows and who really cares? Because everyone has an opinion - they'll either like you or they won't like you."

Video: Chad J talks about starting tonight against the Blues

Statistics, added Johnson, are like looks. They can often be deceiving.

"No matter what anybody else writes or says, if I played poorly or played well … I'll know.

"You have to trust your abilities and be honest with yourself.

"As you get older, you find yourself worrying less and less about what family has to say, media has to say, fans have to say."

Still, the dime-store Freudians were busy chewing on the bone; dissecting the goaltending decision.

Some wondered if the move - starting a guy against his former team, as Johnson did against Buffalo recently, after all, falls into the realm of clichéd certainty - may have been made to light a bunsen burner underneath Elliott (the Flames and Blues contest a rematch at the Scottrade Center as early as Tuesday) for his next start.

The man with the final call, at least publicly, explained that it came down to something as as simple as winning a hockey game.

"We thought about it, obviously, with Els having such a great career in St. Louis,'' acknowledged Gulutzan, "but at the end of the day we thought we wanted to keep Johnny going a little bit so we put him in."

When asked how expected Elliott to react to the call, Gulutzan replied:

"He should respond like any of our guys - like a good pro. And he has. He's a great pro. he's still a guy we're relying on. This is just a little snapshot.

"He understands where we're at. We felt Johnny has played well, too, and we're in the business of trying to win hockey games.

"We're relying heavily on Els and I don't think this will affect him."

Whoever got the nod, St. Louis promised to be a difficult assignment. They lost Elliott and Troy Brouwer to the Flames and captain David Backes to the Bruins over the summer.

But there's still plenty of skill, size and sandpaper to recommend them.

"The past five years the identity of the Blues has been stick to the game plan, kind of grind you down and play in your defensive zone,'' said Elliott, who won 22 games guarding the Blues' net a year ago. 

"You have to be ready for that; for a battle all night long, you can't give in."

And the inevitable questions from the media regarding who is getting the starts in the blue paint.

"I play tonight,'' said Johnson, shrugging. "Next game? Who knows?"

Elliott was being equally philosophical about the decision.

"You can't,'' he emphasized, "get hung up on things. Your highs can't be too high and your lows can't be too low.

"You've got to keep an even keel.

"I feel like I'm spitting a lot of common lines here but it's God's honest truth."

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