Run through all the great goalies in Buffalo Sabres history. Start with Dominik Hasek and Ryan Miller. Throw in Tom Barrasso, Don Edwards, Bob Sauve, Roger Crozier. Anyone else you want.
No one has ever made more saves in a regular-season shutout than Chad Johnson did Thursday night.
Johnson stopped all 44 shots the offensively-challenged Anaheim Ducks threw at him to set a career-high during Buffalo’s 3-0 victory in First Niagara Center. He broke the franchise mark of 43 set by Miller in a 2-0 win at Anaheim in 2012. Miller made 20 saves in the third period that night, Johnson made 19 of his in the final 20 minutes.
While Hasek famously made 70 stops in his four-overtime win over New Jersey in the 1994 playoffs, it’s pretty amazing to think a franchise with a long lineage of goaltending has never had a shutout with this many saves during the regular season.
“That’s a real surprise,” Johnson said. “You see Hasek, you know Miller was here for 10-plus years and I know they had some teams that gave up a lot of shots. But we did a good job as a team with it as a team the whole game.”
“It never looked like it was going to get by him,” said coach Dan Bylsma. “He was solid. Real calm in net.”
Johnson was particularly sharp in the first half of the third period, when the Ducks collected 12 shots on goal before the Sabres managed their first. His best save was probably a pad stop on a Ryan Getzlaf backhand, continuing the frustration for the Ducks captain who remains stuck on one goal (an empty-netter to boot). That came in a stretch where the Ducks were stymied six times in a span of 1 minutes, 42 seconds.
Johnson evened his record at 9-9-1, improving his goals-against average to 2.33 and his save percentage to .918. He’s at 2.22/.930 in December after posting a glossy resume of 1.28/.954 in November. Not bad for the guy penciled in as the every-few-games backup to Robin Lehner.
“The more you play, the more comfortable someone feels, the more confident,” Johnson said. “I want to play as much as possible. We’re playing a lot better defensively in front of the crease and boxing guys out more than we did the beginning of the year. .. deflections aren’t happening and those rebound goals aren’t happening.”
As Johnson said, the Sabres cleared shot lanes so their goaltender rarely had to work through screens. Johnson controlled most rebounds or put them in spots where they were easily cleared. And there was no need for Johnson to dive across the crease in the final seconds to preserve a victory like he had to do Monday night in Detroit.
“To hang on and get that done for him, he played amazing tonight and deserved it,” said winger Jamie McGinn, who scored Buffalo’s insurance goal in the third period. “He saved the game for us in Detroit as well in the last minute. For him to get the shutout, that’s huge for him.”
Johnson recorded his first shutout as a Sabre and first since March 21, 2014 with Boston at Colorado. The Sabres’ last shutout was by Jhonas Enroth just over a year ago, on Dec. 9, 2014 against Los Angeles.
“You know you haven’t let anything but you’re not going, “Oh man, there’s a zero on the board,’ “ Johnson said. “It’s like a no-hitter. You kind of stay on course. As much as it’s there, you just can’t think about it.”
Bylsma liked how Johnson served to calm his team down during the few instances when the Ducks were surging, especially on a third-period power play when he made four stops in 26 seconds.
“They had a flurry with the puck in the crease and he was the guy that was probably the most under control,” the Buffalo coach said.
“Tonight was a great game by Johnny,” said winger Nicolas Deslauriers, part of a fourth line that gave the Ducks fits most of the night. “We let a couple guys in the slot have Grade A chances and he stopped them.
“It’s huge. He’s been around the league, works so hard in practice. I’m always one of the last on the ice to shoot on him and work on stuff and he puts everything out there.”