For only the fourth time in the past 73 games, including the postseason, somebody other than Marc-Andre Fleury will patrol the crease for the Penguins as Brent Johnson makes his second start of the season when Pittsburgh plays host to the Florida Panthers on Friday night at Mellon Arena at 7:30 p.m.
Johnson’s only other start this season came on Oct. 7 when he stopped 22 of the 24 shots thrown his way by the Phoenix Coyotes in a 3-0 Pittsburgh loss. Johnson was very sharp in that game as he was arguably the best player on the ice for the Penguins. He made an unbelievable save sliding back to his left to rob a wide-open Shane Doan at the 9:24 mark of the first period right after Phoenix had just taken the lead, but the Penguins couldn’t build off the momentum.
Hockey players are superstitious by nature, none more so than goaltenders, so Johnson appreciated head coach Dan Bylsma informing him of the impending start 24 hours in advance.
“I like to know the night before,” Johnson said following the pre-game skate on Friday. “I have a pregame routine the night before. That is how it has always been. Every coach has always been kind enough to let us know the day before.
“(My routine) definitely changes (when I start). You come to the rink prepared every day because anything can happen out there, but it changes. I have my little things I do the night before I play.”
Being that it has been 16 days since the Phoenix game, Johnson has had to use practice to stay sharp for his next start.
“I have just been using the practices as a game. They are my games when I go out there. I just give everything and try to stay out of bad habits.”
Bylsma picked a great opponent for Johnson to go against, as he has posted strong numbers versus Florida in the past, going 6-3-1 with a 2.42 goals-against average in 12 career contests. When asked, Johnson said he was unaware of the previous success he had against the Panthers.
“(I am) not aware of anything like that. Every game is different. You never look at a team and talk about your success against them because teams can play different every time.”
One player happy to see Johnson get the nod from Bylsma is Fleury, who rests for only the second time this season.
“I always like to play but ‘Johnny’ has been working hard,” Fleury said. “It will be fun to watch him, encourage him, and enjoy the game.”
So what does Fleury do with one of his rare off nights?
“I usually follow the game. You never know what will happen so I have to stay ready just in case. I am a little more relaxed. I will talk to the trainers who are standing by. I try to make it fun for myself, enjoy the game and be a fan for a night.”