CALGARY – It was two years ago to the day that Chad Johnson was robbed of his chance to start in his hometown. Then a member of the Boston Bruins, the goaltender was slated to start in Calgary against the Flames but was forced to sit due to a flu bug that had spread throughout the Bruins dressing room.
On Thursday, the Buffalo Sabres’ goaltender will finally have his opportunity. Johnson, who grew up as a Flames fan in Calgary, has played in 74 games across six seasons – but none at Scotiabank Saddledome.
Now that his chance has finally come, he admitted there might be some butterflies.
“It’s exciting to be able to play at home in front of family and friends against a team you grew up watching since you were born,” he said. “It’s always good to get a few butterflies before the game because I think you’re into it, you’re aware of the situation, so I think you just embrace it.”
Coverage of the game on Thursday begins at 8:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Sportsnet 360. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550, with puck drop set for 9 p.m.
Johnson has already had quite the homecoming. With the schedule working out in his favor, he had two nights prior to game day to spend with family and friends. He was even visited by family at practice on Wednesday, where his 18-month-old nephew stole the show in the stands.
On Thursday, it’s back to business for Johnson as he makes his fifth start in Buffalo’s last seven games.
“Chad’s at his best when he’s been calm and quiet in net, and that’s what he’s been,” Bylsma said. “Earlier in the season we saw some spectacular saves from Chad. I don’t think he’s had to make any spectacular saves [lately] with how solid he’s played, how controlled he’s played.
“He’s been real solid with his play in net and he’s also a hometown boy, so he’s going to have some family and friends here in front of him tonight.”
A NEW LOOK ON THE POWER PLAY
For the first time this season, the Sabres are utilizing a power-play unit that includes two defensemen. After seeing time on the power play against Vancouver, Zach Bogosian will continue to play with the extra man on a unit with Cody Franson, Evander Kane, Jack Eichel and Matt Moulson.
With Bogosian and Franson on the points, the Sabres have two big defensemen that can get pucks through traffic.
“I think both of us bring a shot. [That] is probably what our [biggest] asset is,” Bogosian said. “I’m just looking to get pucks to the net and be used in that way. It’s something that I’ve done before and I’m definitely looking forward to getting more and more time out there.”
His coach, meanwhile, recognized another important asset that Bogosian will bring to Buffalo’s power play.
“One thing we have been in need of is a person to bring the puck up the ice with speed,” Bylsma said. “Zach will be able to add that almost definitely from there. He’s on a group with Cody Franson. Now you have two guys, two right shots on that power-play position that can really bring it to the net with a heavy shot.”
FLAMES ARE HOT AT HOME
Calgary is currently riding a three-game winning streak, having most recently beaten San Jose 4-2 at the Saddledome on Tuesday night. The Flames have won seven-straight games at home, dating back to a 2-1 victory over Philadelphia on Nov. 5.
No player has been more instrumental to Calgary’s success at Scotiabank Saddledome than second-year forward Johnny Gaudreau, who leads the team in both goals (9) and assists (17) for 26 points. At home, Gaudreau has tallied a point in eight straight games, including a four-point performance against the Sharks.
Bylsma watched that game and came away impressed.
“They played with a lot of speed, they played with a lot of skill,” he said. “Gaudreau was dancing all over the ice but their defensemen, they were [also] impressive in how they played. Our guys were together watching as well. They saw all of that, and it’s kind of what we expect from them tonight.”
88 Jamie McGinn – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 23 Sam Reinhart
9 Evander Kane – 15 Jack Eichel – 12 Brian Gionta
26 Matt Moulson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 22 Johan Larsson
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 17 David Legwand – 82 Marcus Foligno
4 Josh Gorges – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe/25 Carlo Colaiacovo – 47 Zach Bogosian
6 Mike Weber – 46 Cody Franson
31 Chad Johnson
35 Linus Ullmark