CALGARY, Alberta -- Chad Johnson was born in Saskatoon but moved to Calgary when he was 1. Tonight in the Saddledome, Johnson plays his 75th NHL game -- and the first in his hometown.
"It's exciting to be able to play at home in front of family and friends against a team you grew up watching. It will be fun," Johnson said today. "I was supposed to play my first year with Boston but I was sick. Me and Zdeno Chara and (Patrice) Bergeron came down with the flu in Toronto the day before. I was supposed to play in Calgary but it didn't work out.
"It's a weird situation coming back and having two days at home. I don't know who made the schedule there but it helped me out quite a bit. It's nice to see the family and friends and it's obviously business as usual today."
While Johnson's return home serves as a backdrop to the game, his emergence as Buffalo's No. 1 goaltender is a key storyline. Johnson will making his fifth start in Buffalo's last seven games, and has gone 3-1 in the previous four. Rookie Linus Ullmark, meanwhile, is 0-4-2 in his last six decisions and has given up 12 goals in his last three starts.
How good has Johnson been? Since Nov. 1, he's 4-2-1 with a 1.70 goals against average and .937 save percentage. On the season, Johnson and Ullmark enter tonight's game with identical .909 save percentages while Johnson has a better GAA (2.45 to 2.85).
"It's all about results but I felt good at the start of the year and we were all growing together as a group, especially defensively," Johnson said. "It takes time with a new system. I felt good at the beginning but lately I've been getting results."
"Chad's at his best when he's been calm and quiet in net," said coach Dan Bylsma. "That's what he's been. Earlier in the season, we saw some spectacular saves from Chad. I don't think he's had to make many spectacular saves with how solid he's played, how controlled he's played. He's given us a chance to win."
Bylsma and his coaches were here for the Flames' 4-2 win Tuesday over San Jose, Calgary's seventh straight at home. The Flames haven't won eight in a row here since 2013.
"I judge a game by if I would pay money for it after I see it and they were impressive," Bylsma said. "They played with a lot of speed and a lot of skill. The top line [Sean Monahan between Johnny Gaudreau and David Jones) was dancing all over the ice, their defensemen were real active. They were real impressive. ... That's kind of what we're expecting tonight."
Other items of note:
---The Sabres have lost five straight here and haven't won in the Saddledome since a 2-0 victory on Oct. 18, 2003. Mika Noronen made 20 saves to get the shutout. Johnson will be starting against Calgary's Karri Ramo, who has started 16 of the last 17 games for the Flames.
---Bylsma said his lineup will be a game-time decision, although Carlo Colaiacovo and Cal O'Reilly were doing extra work with the assistant coaches after the rest of the team left the ice. That makes them the likely scratches and means Jake McCabe will return to the lineup after a one-game hiatus in the press box Monday in Vancouver.
---Zemgus Girgensons said he's adjusting to wearing a full face shield after his lip was split open and needed 12 inches to close the wound.
"It's definitely different," Girgensons said. " You see double sometimes when you look down ... The trainers want me to wear something to protect the stitches. You don't want to split it open again..It was just the lip. It could have been worse."