For 22 of his first 27 games as a Bruin, Chad Johnson has spent 60 or more minutes every time processing what he sees from the bench as Tuukka Rask’s backup.
“I try and take the most I can, try and learn as much as I can being on the bench,” said the No. 2 goalie. “I think it’s just seeing how the team plays, what they like to give up, what they like to give Tuukka. If it’s odd-man rushes, maybe they give him the shot or they move over. Just different plays the team does because they have faith in Tuukka and what he can do. I think just watching that and those situations, eventually when I get in, I’ll be able to step in there and know what the situation will be when it’s my time.”
Johnson made his fifth start Saturday. But for the backup goalie, a night in net wasn’t much different than when he’s on the bench with a hat on his head. Johnson saw only 14 pucks in the Bruins’ 3-1 win over Columbus. The Blue Jackets didn’t have the puck enough to make Johnson bead up into a sweat. Like when he’s the backup, Johnson was an observer more than a participant.
“It was an easy game. Not much really to talk about on my end of it,” said Johnson. “We had a good backcheck. Our D were standing up at the blue line. We just didn’t let them gain any momentum or gain the zone, really. They were forced to turn pucks over. I think when we play our best hockey, that’s what we do. We force them to make plays at the blue line. Today we were there for the whole 60 minutes.”
In the course of a season, there are puckstopping outliers. When his teammates couldn’t do much with the puck against the Rangers on Nov. 19, Rask stole two points for his team with a 43-save showstopper. Two days later, the Bruins played a heavy, efficient game against St. Louis. But one factor in the Bruins’ 3-2 shootout loss was a slow-moving Derek Roy dribbler that Rask let slip through his pads.
The general rule, however, is that a goalie is a reflection of his team. Johnson’s near-perfect night — a Ryan Johansen shot he didn’t see was the only puck he missed — underscored how thoroughly the Bruins outplayed the shorthanded Jackets.
The Bruins outshot Columbus, 36-14. The Bruins attempted 67 shots to Columbus’s 42.
The Jackets never tested Johnson with regular pressure. They never had the puck to do so.
“It seemed like we had confidence,” Johnson said. “Guys were in the right spots where they needed to be. When we were looking to make plays, it was a quick puck move to them. Everybody was on their game today. We limited their opportunities and we played good defensively. That led to our offense.”
Saturday’s game serves as a blueprint for the hard-hat manner — more Carhartt, less Zegna — in which the Bruins want to play. Defensively, they limited the Jackets to one-and-done looks. Johnson stopped the rare puck.
Then the Bruins transitioned rapidly from defense to offense. They flew through the neutral zone. Once they gained the offensive blue line, they cycled the puck, forced the Jackets to chase, and spent extended shifts in front of goalie Curtis McElhinney.
When they’re clicking, the Bruins are a powerful puck-possession team. They rush the puck with multiple bodies to support the attack. Opponents regularly find themselves outnumbered. They make mistakes because of the Bruins’ heat.
One reason the Bruins went 1 for 6 on the power play was because they controlled the puck and forced Columbus to take penalties.
“We were two steps behind,” said Columbus coach Todd Richards. “They were bigger, they were stronger, they were faster. Every aspect of the game, if you look at it, they were better than us. We couldn’t get the puck stopped in our own zone, and it was too easy in the offensive zone — their ability to just wash us out of the play, get the puck, and then get it back into our zone.”
As much as the Bruins want to play this way, such games are not easy for goalies. Especially for goalies who play as sparingly as Johnson.
Johnson saw just two shots in the first period. Johnson turned back all seven in the second. In the third, Fedor Tyutin slashed in front of Johnson just as Johansen released his shot. Just like that, the JV Jackets — they’re missing Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky, Nathan Horton, Jared Boll, and Derek MacKenzie — were within two strikes of tying the game.
But the Bruins finished the game like they started it. They submitted a 60-minute, workmanlike, blue-collar effort. Johnson came out of it with his fourth win in five starts.
Johnson didn’t start the season as crisply as the Bruins wanted. But Johnson’s recent play is giving his bosses more confidence that he can spell Rask when required.
“He’s starting to play on a more regular basis,” coach Claude Julien said. “He seems to be getting in synch and more comfortable.”
Johnson will return to his usual spot on the bench. Rask should get the next two starts in Montreal on Thursday and at home against Pittsburgh on Saturday. But in one week, the Bruins kick off a four-game Canadian tour. They’ll need Johnson then. He’ll be ready.