CALGARY, Alberta -- His own work done for the morning, goaltender Chad Johnson walked down the hall Tuesday at ice level of the Scotiabank Saddledome and stood in the runway as the Buffalo Sabres started to emerge to hit the ice.
Now wearing a Calgary sweatsuit, there were hugs, handshakes and high-fives all around as the Sabres noticed their former goaltender serving as their greeter. Buffalo goaltending coach Andrew Allen stopped for several minutes as Johnson chatted with each player who walked by.
The pleasantries were to end later in the day, as Johnson made his second start for the Flames against Buffalo in the middle game of the Sabres' three-game road trip.
"My approach has to be the same. It's a hockey team and a hockey game," said Johnson, 30. "I've had this experience a few times in my career and I prepare the same way. But you use it as motivation and excitement to get yourself going, knowing you had some base playing over there last year. I had good times there and this is going to be fun."
When Robin Lehner went down in the season's first game with a high ankle sprain, sidelining him for three months, Johnson took over duties with Linus Ullmark to keep the Sabres afloat. And Johnson was the main man after Lehner's season ended in March due to residual impact of the injury.
Johnson played a career-high 45 games for Buffalo, going 22-16-1 with a 2.36 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. He had a 44-save shutout against Anaheim, breaking the franchise record for saves in a shutout. Johnson finished particularly strong, going 8-2-1, 2.13 and .926 in March and April
"He was a key component for us last year," said Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly. "He stepped up huge and played phenomenal. It's going to be a little different playing against him."
Johnson, who was born in Saskatoon but grew up in Calgary, signed a one-year, $1.7 million contract to return home last July. The Sabres were one of several teams interested in retaining him but the pull of home and the persuasion of Calgary General Manager Brad Treliving were hard to pass up.
Johnson got married on June 26, the day the free agent interview period opened. His agent even attended the ceremony and told him they would be busy starting the next day.
"When I got into that free agency week there, you heard from 5-6 teams talking to me about the value of the organization," Johnson said. "Brad would call me bright and early every day at 8 a.m. starting the day after my wedding. It was the opportunity to be able to be home and there were a lot of factors."
Johnson backed up Brian Elliott in Calgary's first two games, losses to Edmonton that saw the Flames get burned for 12 goals. Johnson made his Calgary debut in Saturday's 2-1 shootout loss at Vancouver, pitching a shutout until giving up Daniel Sedin's tying goal with less than four minutes left in regulation. He stopped 30 of 31 shots.
"I felt good in camp and you just try to get better and feel good," Johnson said. "I've felt good at the start of the season. I try to be calm and composed in the net when times are chaotic. I want to get the win there in Vancouver when you're so close but that's my game, that's my style. It was a calm, composed game where you're trying to make things look easy."
Johnson said he enjoyed last season in Buffalo, especially the way the Sabres improved in the second half of the season when they learned Dan Bylsma's system. He said he hopes the same thing happens here under new coach Glen Gulutzan. Johnson also said he was disturbed by the news of Jack Eichel's injury last week in practice.
"I was just shocked to hear that and see it," he said. "It was a little deja vu last year with Robin when I heard high ankle sprain. I wasn't glad that's what it was but I was glad it was not a knee too. When you first heard about it and first saw it, everybody was kind of gasping to hope it wasn't a knee. That would have been a lot longer for him. But I know Jack. He works hard. The team really needs him."
Tuesday's game was the 3,500th in the career of legendary Sabres equipment manager Rip Simonick, who will be honored by the team for the accomplishment when it returns home later this month.
"I don't understand that many games, maybe if you count all the pickup games in the backyard," joked coach Dan Bylsma. "Rip is a Buffalo Sabre through and through. ... He's an iconic guy for our team. I feel coming to the rink every day seeing him, 'That's a Buffalo Sabre' and that's a ton of hockey games."
The Sabres were scheduled to head to Vancouver immediately after Tuesday's game and it's uncertain if they will see Ryan Miller in net when they play the Canucks Thursday night in Rogers Arena.
Miller did not dress for Tuesday's game against St. Louis because of what coach Willie Desjardins called "tightness." Jakob Markstrom started the game and the Canucks were expected to use local college goaltender Matt Hewitt as an emergency backup because their farm team is across the continent in Utica.
Former Sabres center and Rochester Amerks captain Matt Ellis has signed as an instructor for HarborCenter's Academy of Hockey. Ellis retired over the summer after a 14-year career.
Ellis, 35, played 286 games for the Sabres from 2008-2015. He also played for Detroit and Los Angeles. He finished his career by playing 58 games for the Amerks last season.