One of the skill requirements for a goaltender is to be able to focus on the puck, blocking out all other distractions. The opposition is crashing the net, creating chaos at your feet. The intensity of the game can toy with your concentration. Heck, even the fights in the stands didn't go totally unnoticed by Chad Johnson.
But the Buffalo Sabres goaltender showed his ability to focus in Monday night's 5-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in KeyBank Center. He made 38 saves for his third straight win, showing what focus throughout the course of a season can bring.
First, about Monday night.
There were plenty of bodies in front of Johnson and the Leafs have a canny ability to get pucks through to the net. They fired 14 shots on goal in the first period and peppered Johnson with 16 in the third during their late-game rally.
But the 31-year-old netminder has been in this position before.
"Just experience, really," Johnson said when asked about how he kept his composure. "It's kind of like anything. You've been in those situations. It was a high energy game tonight with a lot of Maple Leafs fans making the trip down. A couple of fights I think in the stands, too. I heard some ruckus there. So you just try to stay calm. You know there's a lot of energy out there and a lot of grittiness with the intensity going on around you. It's just experience in those moments. You don't really think about it."
Johnson also didn't think about results. Not for most of the season. He had just one win in his first 17 appearances for the Sabres and was not regularly getting into games as Robin Lehner's backup. Johnson wanted to play more, so among the distractions he had to block out were his statistics. Instead, he had to focus on the details.
By sticking to the plan, he was able to work his way into better results. In his last nine appearances, Johnson is 6-2-0 with a .933 save percentage and a 2.05 goals-against average.
"This is a game about results," Johnson said. "You don't win, obviously people will pick you apart. When you win everyone's happy, media's happy, owners are happy, we're happy, right? Everyone's happy. Getting results is key but again when things weren't going my way and it was tough at the start, I trusted the process. I trusted (goaltending coach) Andrew Allen to tell me where I’m at, what I need to do, if I need to change things.
"I was at a good place right from the start. I just ran into some hot opponents and had tough games. That's sort of how it goes. I'm only in my 20th start now. It's not the middle of the season but it's only 20 games. I feel like I'm getting more games which is great. The biggest thing is the way the team is playing in front of me. Guys are doing a good job eliminating Grade A scoring chances and I'm getting the results because of them."
The better defensive play in front has been key for Johnson to get positive results and the defensive unit is pretty happy he can get rewarded for his work.
"It's all about flow in hockey," defenseman Marco Scandella said. "A few times early on in the season we didn't play very well in front of him. We're losing games but I'm really happy that the group was more resilient defensively and played better in front of him because when he sees it, he's going to make the save and now he's making big stops, too and keeping our team in it."
It was a classic hockey story, the kind about the minor league coach toying with a player before revealing he's being called up to the big leagues.
Only this party only last for a period.
Sabres foward Kyle Criscuolo was without his stick but went into the boards near the Sabres bench anyway to try and make a play about six minutes into the second period. Toronto Maple Leafs' forward Matt Martin went in for a big hit. And Criscuolo skated off holding his left arm going immediately into the dressing room.
Sabres coach Phil Housley had no update on Criscuolo who played 4:29 and won three of his five faceoffs.
This was the second call-up for Criscuolo who had played eight games with the Sabres in November.
This call came Sunday morning from Rochester Americans coach Chris Taylor just as Criscuolo was ready to leave his house for Blue Cross Arena and the Amerks afternoon game.
And for the first few moments of the conversation, Criscuolo was a bit worried.
"First he said I wasn't playing. Then he said 'you're suspended,' " Criscuolo said in KeyBank Center Monday morning after the Sabres pre-game skate.
Nah. No suspensions or benching. Taylor was just kidding.
"Then he told me I was going up," Criscuolo said. "But he got me for a moment."
Criscuolo leads the Amerks in goals with 15, including three on the power play, one short-handed and four game-winners.
"You're always trying to develop your game, but they told me to keep working on faceoffs," Criscuolo said. "Work on my play at both ends and to make sure that you sort of have a niche here that can be plugged into the team and help them win games. That's the message they sent me."
The Sabres also recalled Brendan Guhle from Rochester on Sunday, and the organization's No. 1 defense prospect played his third game of the season Monday night. He had one assist in two games in January.
He was even in plus-minus Monday night in 14:50 of ice time with two shots on goal.