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Sabres Notebook: Reunion in Calgary as Johnson will start for Flames

CALGARY, Alberta -- The Buffalo Sabres will have a reunion Tuesday night in the Saddledome with one of their secret weapons from last season. Goaltender Chad Johnson, who won 22 games for Buffalo while holding the fort when Robin Lehner was injured, will be the starter against the Sabres for the Calgary Flames.

Johnson made his Calgary debut Saturday in a 2-1 shootout loss at Vancouver, coming within four minutes of a shutout before taking the loss. The Flames had opened the season with Brian Elliott giving up 12 goals in two losses to Edmonton.

"I felt good," Johnson told Calgary reporters after practice here Tuesday morning. "I think I was prepared coming into the year, my focus was where it needed to be. As a group, we got better and played a better game there even though we obviously didn't get what we wanted out of it with an extra point."

Johnson went 22-16-4 in 45 games for the Sabres last season, compiling a 2.36 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. He signed a one-year, $1.7-million contract July 1 with Calgary, the city he grew up in after being born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

"He was just huge for us. He played extremely well," said Sabres captain Brian Gionta. "I expect it to be a tough night against him. He always seems to have one of those highlight reel saves that ends up on the ESPN Top 10. He always has that."

"He was solid, confident, calm in a comforting influence on the rest of our team," said coach Dan Bylsma. "You felt like when Chad was in the net, we had a chance to win every game that he played. He ends up winning over 20 games and had a great year for us. We don't need to see any of that tomorrow."

Asked by the Calgary media for a scouting report on his old team, Johnson was filled with praise for Bylsma and the Sabres.

"It's a well-coached team. They have good structures, good systems, guys in their group who have been together for a little bit now," Johnson said. "Last year we found our way later on in the season. They're very balanced from top to bottom. They're deep and play hard."

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Bylsma said Lehner will make his third straight start in goal Tuesday night but that his plans for Thursday night's game in Vancouver are uncertain. It's possible backup Anders Nilsson, who had a strong preseason, will make his Sabres debut in that game.

The spread-out nature of the Sabres early schedule, which features no back-to-backs until Oct. 29-30, makes it dicey to get Nilsson playing time. After the Vancouver game, the Sabres have four days off before playing Oct. 25 in Philadelphia.

"We definitely want to have Anders play for us in the near future," Bylsma said. "We have some space in the schedule but it's not going to be too much longer before he gets in a game."

Bylsma said he's not averse to changing a winning lineup, given the fact the Sabres have an extra forward on the trip. The coach said winger Nick Baptiste's NHL debut will come "this trip for sure."

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Edmonton Oilers coach Todd McLellan canceled his team's CBA-mandated off day Monday after ripping his team following Sunday night's 6-2 loss to the Sabres in Rogers Place. The NHL Players Association is reportedly looking into the matter as a violation of the contract, as coaches aren't allowed to change the days simply for bad performances.

McLellan told Edmonton reporters Monday he negotiated with the players to switch their off day from Monday to Wednesday and didn't think the situation was that big a deal. The Oilers host Carolina Tuesday night, and will take their day off prior to Thursday's visit by St. Louis.

"Obviously it had to be agreed upon by us and we were all for it,” captain Connor McDavid said Monday. “It was a good thing. Everyone feels a lot better leaving the rink today, as opposed to coming in still thinking about that game.”

McLellan staged a five-minute virtuoso with reporters late Sunday night, saying his team "looked like the Bad News Bears".

"We learned a lesson that we're not quite ready to take a step," McLellan said. "We can't handle prosperity yet. We just got kicked right between the legs and we deserved it."

McLellan saved his best one-liner for forward Benoit Pouliot, who sat the final 40 minutes against the Sabres after taking two penalties in the first period. Pouliot was penalized three times Friday in Calgary as well.

"We have some foundation or fabric things that we have to continue to fix as an organization. Stupidity is one of them," McLellan said. "So don't play. Watch."

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Calgary signed Sanborn native Tom McCollum to a two-year, two-way contract and assigned the 26-year-old goaltender to Stockton of the AHL after he cleared waivers.

McCollum, a 2008 first-round pick of Detroit, has played most of the last seven years with Grand Rapids. He had a training camp tryout with Los Angeles and was released from that contract before signing with Calgary.

McCollum went 15-13-0 with a 2.42 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage in 30 games last year for Grand Rapids. He has played three NHL games in his career and his lone win came against the Sabres on Jan. 18, 2015 in Joe Louis Arena.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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