WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- The nightmare continues for Chad Johnson.
Backup goaltenders live their existence fraught with anxiety, both over when they'll get their chance to play and whether they take advantage of it. So far this season, Johnson simply hasn't been able to do it.
The Buffalo Sabres hit the halfway mark of the season Friday night with a 4-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets in Bell MTS Place and the defeat dropped Johnson to 1-7-3 on the season. No misprint there: Exactly halfway through the schedule, Johnson has one win.
No team can survive with a backup playing that way, although Johnson's stats are well down the list of reasons for the Sabres' 10-22-9 record and 58-point pace for the season. Johnson, remember, won 22 games for Buffalo just two seasons ago and 18 for Calgary last year.
Now he's sitting with a 3.71 goals-against average and .883 save percentage, third from the bottom in the NHL in both categories among goalies who have played at least 10 games.
Two years ago in 45 games for the Sabres, Johnson was at 2.36 and .920. Last year in Calgary? The numbers were 2.59 and .910
"That part is tough obviously. In this league, you're evaluated off your results," Johnson said. "You can play like garbage and everybody who doesn't watch the game can think you're playing great based off statistics. All things aren't equal when it comes to goalie statistics. A lot impacts that.
"I just try to come hard to the rink, word hard in practice and do the things I can control. It obviously hasn't gone my way from the start, from the first game of the season. I've been in a lot of tough games that I just haven't been good enough. The ones I've been in to get wins, it's been hard."
Johnson has given up at least four goals in four straight starts but isn't dealing with a string of bad goals. Far from it. You can easily count on one hand the number of terrible tallies he's let in this year. The issue is that he simply doesn't make enough saves on shots that can make a difference for his team.
He got beat from long range on Winnipeg's first two goals, from defensemen Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba, and then on an unscreened snapshot from the right circle by Blake Wheeler. The Trouba goal was the most questionable, as Johnson had to look past Marco Scandella and failed to pick up the puck when he seemed he had time and enough space to do so.
"I felt good. I don't like the result but I felt good with where my positioning was," Johnson said. "It was just hard to find pucks. They're good getting it to the point, getting it through quickly. It was really hard. Big bodies that know where to be in front there. I have to look at the video and see if there's something I can do with positioning."
"They had some really good net-front presence on the first two goals," said coach Phil Housley. "Maybe on the second one he could have tried to find it but you can't fault him. I thought he played a really good solid game for us, especially when we needed a big save."
Indeed, Johnson stopped Nikolaj Ehlers on a clean breakaway early in the third period shortly after Bryan Little's tap-in at 25 seconds had given the Jets a 4-2 lead. The Sabres got back within on goal on Scott Wilson's first Buffalo tally with 7:48 left and pressed hard for an equalizer that never came.
"You just try to move on, focus on the next save and the next one after the fourth goal was a breakaway," Johnson said. "And in this league you just never know what can happen. They're a good team that got a lot of shots through a lot of big bodies in front and found ways."
"He played great tonight, gave us a chance," said center Ryan O'Reilly. "There's some huge saves he made, a 2-on-1, the breakaway. We have to help him out more. ... We weren't good enough in front of them."
It was an odd game that saw the Sabres compile 69 shot attempts but just 29 on goal as the Jets were credited with 23 blocks. Jack Eichel (16) and O'Reilly (11) combined for 27 shot attempts and only managed to get seven on goal.
Buffalo went 0 for 5 on the power play (although Marco Scandella scored in the first period three seconds after a Jets penalty finished). And the Sabres couldn't get any good looks despite a final minute spent almost entirely in the Jets' zone with Johnson on the bench for an extra attacker.
"They did a pretty good job clogging up and being tight to the net but again we had opportuinties," Housley said. "We're waiting too long. We've got to do things quickly. Especially when it goes side to side and East to west, we've got to deliver that puck. We've got to get guys getting hungry, getting in there and getting a dirty goal."
For his part, Johnson seems to think it's time for desperate measures. He sat in the cold at the Winter Classic because there was no room on the team's heated bench for the backup goalie, so Johnson was huddled in a giant Bills jacket. That, however, didn't keep his legs and feet warm.
"I'm a professional. I know what I can do. I'm confident in my game," Johnson said. "It's just I know I'm going to come out of it and things will go my way. I don't know what to say. I've got to do something. Something weird maybe to change things up to get some luck on my side."