Longtime Sabres beat writer Bill Hoppe of BuffaloHockeyBeat.com, will be writing about Sabres prospects, the Rochester Americans and related topics this season.
ROCHESTER – Goalie Jonas Johansson figured he could earn a recall to the Americans this season.
The Sabres' prospect had already played 14 AHL games, including some big matchups down the stretch in March and April. The Sabres also awarded him a long look during NHL training camp, boosting his confidence.
Still, when Johansson, 23, learned last Monday the Amerks were summoning him from the Cincinnati Cyclones, their ECHL affiliate, the news was unexpected.
“I try to stay ready if it would happen,” Johnsson said after making 25 saves in Wednesday’s 5-2 win against the Utica Comets in Blue Cross Arena. “I don’t want to say I was surprised about it, but I wasn’t really expecting it. I was just trying to have it in mind that it might happen sometime during the season.”
That it happened in early December with two healthy goalies on the roster and the Amerks in first place surprised some observers.
But Amerks coach Chris Taylor insisted Johansson’s presence isn’t a reflection of Scott Wedgewood and Adam Wilcox, his regular goalies.
“I’m not sending a message, definitely not,” Taylor said.
The Sabres recalled Wedgewood on Friday, so Johansson, the only goalie prospect in Rochester or Cincinnati, could earn more action as Carter Hutton recovers from his upper-body injury. The Sabres’ old regime drafted Johansson in the third round in 2014, 61st overall.
Johansson played again in Friday’s 2-1 home win against the Providence Bruins, making 26 saves. Taylor said the start would’ve been Wedgewood’s and he wanted to keep his goalie schedule.
Wilcox was scratched Wednesday before playing in Saturday’s 4-3 road win against the Syracuse Crunch.
Taylor said it was organizational decision to recall Johansson, who had won six of his last eight starts with the Cyclones.
“He played well and he’s a big part of our organization,” Taylor said. “So we wanted to get him a game and we felt this was the right time to get him a game.”
Johansson stopped the first 23 shots he faced Wednesday and lost the shutout with 4:14 left in the third period.
Taylor said he chose to play the Swede against Utica because he liked the way he practiced Tuesday and the team has a busy schedule.
The Amerks have three games a week the rest of December.
“We thought this was a good opportunity with how many games we have coming up, a good opportunity to get into action against a good team,” Taylor said. “He played very well.”
The 6-foot-5, 214-pound Johansson said he has “found a better consistency” this season, his second full North American campaign.
In his last eight appearances, he has compiled a 1.74 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage.
“I’m trying to work more on my fundamental part of my game a little bit, because I feel like I have the strength and the speed but maybe I didn’t find the consistency yet,” Johansson said.
Overall, he is 7-3-1-1 with a 2.49 goals-against average, a .910 save percentage and two shutouts in 12 games with the Cyclones.
"It’s great for goalies to get an opportunity to play down there, because it’s a scrambly league, a lot of things can happen,” Johansson said. “If you manage to play good on that level, I think that can help you the rest of your career.”
Johansson’s long stay in Buffalo during camp, including his first NHL exhibition appearance Sept. 17, clearly helped him.
“That was really cool,” Johansson said of his 20-minute relief stint. “I took a lot of confidence. It’s great to feel you have done it, you have it with you. I got to play against NHL players, it’s great to have that in your stomach that you can handle.”
Bailey ends goal drought
Amerks winger Justin Bailey ended a six game-goal drought Friday, getting an early power-play marker before scoring again thanks to “playing good structure,” Taylor said.
Later in the first period, Bailey intercepted a pass just inside the blue line and beat two defenders down the slot to score his seventh goal this season.
“If he took care of those details away from the puck, he’d get those scoring opportunities, and that’s how he creates offense,” Taylor said.
Bailey, who didn’t score his first goal until his 12th game, also utilizes his speed to create offense.
“When I’m moving my feet, I put a lot of pressure on the D,” the Williamsville native said. “I find, especially in the first 10 minutes, if I’m moving, it creates a lot of bad gaps later in the game, the D start to back off a little bit. That’s when the holes and things like that open up.”
Wilcox has recorded three of his wins this season against Syracuse, his former team. Saturday’s victory stopped the Crunch’s 13-game point streak. … Defenseman Zach Redmond ended a season-long four-game goal drought Saturday, scoring his 14th in the Amerks’ 24th game. Redmond scored a career-high 15 times last season in 66 appearances. …