TAMPA, Fla. – A believe-it-or-not special: With newcomer Chad Johnson serving as the backup Tuesday night, there have now been 11 goaltenders who have suited up for at least one game with the Buffalo Sabres since Ryan Miller was traded to St. Louis one year and one week ago.
Seriously. Eleven. In just 53 weeks. With so many stories among them.
One was a HarborCenter employee (Ryan Vinz). One was a retired NHLer turned assistant coach (Arturs Irbe). Another spent one game in the uniform before he was traded again (Jaroslav Halak). One never hit the ice during his callup and is back in Rochester (Andrey Makarov).
Who has played? Of course, there’s the now-departed Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth, dealt to the New York Islanders for Johnson on Monday. Don’t forget about Matt Hackett, Nathan Lieuwen or Connor Knapp.
And Tuesday night in Amalie Arena, Anders Lindback took over the crease from Neuvirth to make his Sabres debut in a nationally televised game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was a pretty good start too, as Lindback stopped 32 of 35 shots in a 3-0 Buffalo loss.
“I felt like I was patient at the times I needed to be,” Lindback said. “Overall, I felt pretty good out there, but obviously I can’t be happy with a 3-0 loss.”
Lindback got a chance to play against the team he played for in last year’s opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs after Ben Bishop was injured. Lindback lost all three games he started against Montreal and moved on to Dallas this year, where he went 2-8 with a 3.71 goals-against average and .875 save percentage. Lindback lost the confidence of coach Lindy Ruff, something backups found easy to have happen during Ruff’s 16 seasons in Buffalo.
“I feel good about my game,” Lindback insisted after the morning skate. “I felt like a played a couple good games and just didn’t get the results. I only had six starts this year and it’s hard to not get the time to get into game situations. I have to be better and make more saves.”
Whereas a month ago, the Sabres’ goaltending tandem of Enroth and Neuvirth was a clear strength of a struggling team, observers around the NHL widely panned the Lindback-Johnson pairing as one of the worst in recent league history once Monday’s trade deadline had passed.
During his post-deadline news conference, General Manager Tim Murray pointed out the fact the Sabres had not used Lindback – because it’s believed he’s not nearly as good as Neuvirth – was a telltale sign that they weren’t tanking their season. Coach Ted Nolan apparently heard that comment too.
“He’s been sitting around and everybody has been saying, ‘When’s he going to play?’ ’’ Nolan said of Lindback. “Well, now he’s playing. He has a chance to play and make somebody eat crow for thinking that he can’t play.”
After the game, Nolan was pleased with Lindback’s game and said “not an issue” when asked about the goaltending in a game his team was shut out and took two bad penalties in the second period.
Meanwhile, Johnson arrived to join his new team while still wearing his blue and orange New York Islanders gear. He went 8-8-1 with a 3.08 goals-against average and .889 save percentage this year for the Islanders after going 17-4-1, 2.10 and .925 last year as Tuukka Rask’s backup in Boston.
Johnson pointed out how his numbers this year were inflated by a four-game stretch from Nov. 15-Dec. 9 that saw him go 1-3 while giving up 18 goals in games against Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Washington and Minnesota. You take those games out and his GAA drops to 2.67 while the save percentage goes up 15 points to .904. Still pedestrian but hardly hideous too.
“I’ve had some good stretches there,” Johnson said. “I think at the start I went really well ... When I let in 18 goals, my numbers obviously take a big hit, especially when you’re not playing very often. “
After the morning skate, Johnson was critical of Canadian media giant TSN for bombarding him with questions about the Sabres’ tanking mission during its live deadline coverage.
TSN called Johnson when the trade was complete and was critical of Johnson and the deal while the goalie was on hold. Once on air, Johnson shot down questions by pointing out players are paid to compete and try to win.
“That whole TSN thing bothered me a little bit,” said Johnson. “I was asked to do an interview with them, they called me and I’m sitting on hold while they’re saying what they have the right to say. But it was obviously a little disrespectful for them to have me on hold listening to what they have to say and then bring me on line to ask me these questions while they sort of bash me or whatever it is.
“You can do that, but not while you’re on the line. It’s just disrespectful. Everyone has their own opinion. I’m coming in here to compete and play hard and win hockey games. I guess you don’t know what other people’s intentions are. Everybody is going to try to write an article, make news I guess.”
As for the tanking question, Johnson reiterated his view: “There’s this whole talk about the draft but for myself and everybody here we’re playing to win. If you don’t play to win, then you shouldn’t be playing. That’s my mindset.”
The Sabres scratched Mikhail Grigorenko and defenseman Tyson Strachan. Girgorenko, who has played just one game at Rochester in the last month due to a knee injury, was on hand for insurance in case Tyler Ennis’ injured groin acted up. Ennis, however, returned after missing two games.