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Sabres Notebook: Johnson still winless at home for the Sabres

Chad Johnson is still looking for a win in KeyBank Center.

The Buffalo Sabres backup goaltender has just two wins in 18 appearances this season and both of those have been on the road.

He took his ninth loss of the season Thursday as the Florida Panthers earned the 4-2 win over the Sabres. Johnson gave up all four goals on 32 shots. including two on the power play in the first period.

"I thought it was pretty even right off the bat and then penalties killed us," Johnson said. "From the first period on we were just chasing. I thought we responded in the second and third with a good push when we had the puck. It was just, we took a lot of penalties in the first and it killed us."

The Sabres took four penalties in the first period including Marco Scandella getting called for delay of game when he shot the puck over the glass giving the Panthers a five-on-three power play, which they cashed in with a Keith Yandle goal to tie the game, 1-1.

Then the Sabres were called for too many men and Mike Matheson's shot from the blue line off the draw found its way through traffic and past Johnson.

"It's just more momentum I think than anything," Johnson said. "When a team has that many power plays, we're not going to have any momentum. You're just sort of on your heels. They have a lot of skilled players that had some good looks and it's tough to kill four penalties in the first period."

Fast forward to the third period when the Sabres were trailing, 3-2, but applying all kinds of pressure in the Florida zone. The Panthers got an odd-man-rush and Colton Sceviour cut in on Johnson to put the game away.

"It was a two-on-one,"  Johnson said. "The guy had a lot of time and was able to chip through my arm there. You want to make that save at that time of the game. It was just the amount of time. Time and space."

"I thought he could have had two of those back," Sabres coach Phil Housley said of Johnson. "It's unfortunate that fourth goal. I thought the second goal he could have tried to fight and get that one back but we shouldn't put ourselves in that position either."

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On Friday, Brian Gionta will be suiting up in the red, white and blue for the Rochester Americans.

Twelve days later, he'll be wearing the red, white and blue for Team USA.

Gionta, a Rochester native and former Buffalo Sabres captain, will be playing for the Amerks Friday night as they host the Toronto Marlies at 7 p.m. in Blue Cross Arena.

"Basically it's something we've floated around a little while ago and toyed with the idea," Gionta said. "It's more of a tuneup to get me ready. We were just trying to time it right and it made sense for me to get in some game action. Obviously these guys have been great – the team, the players have all been great. I'm excited to get into a game."

Gionta has been practicing with the Amerks since October, his mind set on being part of the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team. He wasn't officially named to the team until Jan. 1, but had played with USA Hockey at the Deutschland Cup in November and had been part of the Team USA equation all season leading up to the Pyeongchang Games. The U.S. opens the tournament on Feb. 14 vs. Slovenia.

Gionta's time with the Amerks has been invaluable as he is the only player on the U.S. roster not currently playing (the rest of the roster is active in college hockey, the AHL or an overseas league) and the American Hockey League schedule has been beneficial.

"To be honest, it's a great situation," Gionta said. "In the AHL their practice schedule is much different than in the NHL. Guys in the NHL are playing every other day and not getting too much practice time. I've been getting in a good three to four practices solid every week in Rochester. The practices are great."

But there are elements that can only be honed in actual games. Gionta compares this one-game with the Amerks to the lockout-shortened 2012-13 NHL season.

"Little things in games, whether it's the power play or penalty kill or seeing different things or board play and overall timing, it's tough to pick up those things in practice," Gionta said. "This is like a little mini preseason game, like you would get in the NHL. I liken it to the half-season lockout where we roughly had a weeklong training camp and went right into the season. This is a little extra tuneup."

While it's a tuneup for Gionta, it's a key game for the Amerks, who are tied for second place in the AHL's Eastern Conference, trailing the first-place Toronto Marlies by five points.

Rochester is seriously thinking Calder Cup for the first time in years and Gionta has seen a system in place that is helping young talent bloom.

"There's been a lot of change there over the last year," Gionta said of the Amerks. "They did a good job of bringing in a good veteran core of guys that can help the young guys like C.J. Smith and Brendan Guhle, guys that can make that jump in the next couple of years. You surround them with the right guys, which is key, and I think the chemistry on that team is great. They've been playing well all year and just having fun."

* * *

Thursday opened the monthlong celebration of "Hockey Is For Everyone" sponsored by the NHL, the NHL Players' Association and all 31 member teams.

The annual campaign focuses on awareness and activities that celebrate all people who play or watch hockey, including fans of every race, color, religion, national origin, gender identity, age, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and those with disabilities.

There are a number of activities planned throughout the league with the Buffalo Sabres hosting its "Hockey Is For Everyone" game on Tuesday, Feb. 6 when they host the Anaheim Ducks. Ryan O'Reilly is the team's ambassador for the initiative.

More than 100 NHL players will be using Colors in the Pride rainbow tape representing inclusion and support of LGBTQ players on the ice, in the locker room, behind the bench and in the stands. Fans can purchase their own rainbow tape at NHLShop.com.

Harrison Browne, who played last season for the Buffalo Beauts in the National Women’s Hockey League and is the first openly transgender athlete in professional hockey, will be one of the program ambassadors.

The Beauts' Harrison Browne finds peace of mind in full disclosure

The NHL Network will have an all-female production of NHL Now on Feb. 28 featuring Jamie Hersch and Jackie Redmond from the NHL Network, Kathryn Tappen of NBC, Amalie Benjamin from NHL.com, as well as reporters Caley Chelios (Tampa Bay Lightning), Lauren Gardner (Colorado Avalanche) and Shannon Hogan (New York Islanders). Special guests will include Manon Rheaume, the first female goaltender in NHL history, and members of the U.S. Women’s National Team following their trip to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

Inside the Sabres: Nilsson proudly waves pride flag

* * *

The Sabres and Untys will host a community blood drive on Monday, Feb. 5 in the Lexus Club in KeyBank Center. Donors will get two tickets to a Buffalo Sabres home game and have the opportunity to meet Sabretooth and Sabres alumni.

The drive runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Donors can make an appointment online at www.untys.org/teamunyts and walk-ins will be welcomed. Those unable to make the event on Monday can donate at their nearest Unyts Neighborhood Donation Center between Feb. 5-10 and also receive tickets for an upcoming Sabres game.

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