A One-Time No. 3 in Net Now Looks Like a No. 1

Cup'pa JoeIt is terrific news that this morning the Capitals’ starting goaltender boasts a .929 save percentage and a 2.12 goals-against, both statistics good enough for 6th-best in their respective categories in the entire league. You would think your team could go pretty far with such play between the pipes.

It is a little surprising, however, that these stats belong to a netminder earning slightly more than eight hundred thousand dollars in salary, less than double that of Tyler Sloan, and who is named Brent Johnson. You can remain philosophical and skeptical about BJ’s emergence in the first month of the Capitals’ season, and think his a Cinderella story with midnight at the near — how could a largely backup backstopper better a nearly $5 million dollar, former Vezina and league MVP winner? — or you can take BJ at his preseason word, and acknowledge that this was part of his plan for 2008-09. 

What I like best about Johnny’s story this season — admittedly in just its prologue — is that he fairly forecasted it, telling media this past summer, not long after the Capitals had signed free agent Jose Theodore, that he thought he could compete for the no. 1 job in net. Bold talk from a backstop who hadn’t known sustained starter status in the league in fully six seasons.

And yet, BJ’s play shouldn’t be all that surprising in light of the conditions he confronted this fall. Had the Caps been successful in resigning Cristobal Huet in the summer, it would have again been crystal clear what Johnson’s role would have been this season: backup again, as he’s always been in his career with the Caps. But the Caps were left a jilted bride at the free agency altar by team Huet, seized upon a controversial plan B in inking the erratic Theodore, and Johnson prepared himself for 2008-09 accordingly.

Starting and expensive NHL goaltenders occasionally get hurt and give way to backups who over-perform or simply make the best of the unexpected situation, infrequently but occasionally leading to goalie controversies. But that obviously is not what has happened between the pipes in D.C. this fall. It’s a startling reversal of fortune for “Johnny” insomuch as just last spring he was relegated to third in the Capitals’ netminding rotation behind Cristobal Huet and Olie Kolzig. Often he couldn’t even get practice ice during the team’s stretch run to the Southeast title.    

This morning, his stats suggest that Johnny is the sixth-best goalie in the NHL right now. It’s about time we got to know a little more about the new no. 1 in Washington.

Brent Johnson was drafted 129th overall by the Colorado Avalanche in 1995. He is a big goalie — 6 ‘3, a tad over 200 pounds. He broke into the league in 1998-99, getting six games that season with the St. Louis Blues. After an American League apprenticeship with Worcester, he became a full-time big-leaguer in 2000-01. He went 19-9-2 in 31 games with St. Louis that season. He went 34-20-4 in 58 games with the Blues in ’01-02. From 2000-03 he boasted a pretty stellar slate of goals-against averages: 2.17, 2.18, 2.47. His save percentage all three of those seasons was at .900 or better. In 232 career NHL games he has a .903 save percentage and a 2.60 goals-against. Consider, though, that 56 of those games were with the very rebuilding Washington Capitals of 2005-07.

He’s only appeared in the NHL postseason twice (with St. Louis), and while his record in 12 games then is an uninspiring 5-6, his goals-against is a gaudy 1.84. He suffers from a league-wide reputation as a career backup, but at age 31, about a year younger than Theodore, he’s far from washed up. What he hasn’t had the past six seasons is a legit opportunity to compete for a no. 1 job. This fall that appears to have changed.   

“Johnny” is the grandson of NHL Hall of Famer Sid Abel, and the son of NHL goalie Bob Johnson. He married a Burke, Va., girl named Erica in 2007. He’s embraced this region and its pro hockey team, serving as a reliable backup here and, just as importantly, forging strong relationships with those paid like, and anointed, his betters at his position.

In sports the backup at key positions often earns the home crowd’s sympathy and underdog urgings. This fall Brent Johnson is doing that, but he might also be saving a season.        

This entry was posted in Brent Johnson, Calgary Flames, Jose Theodore, Morning cup-a-joe, St. Louis Blues, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to A One-Time No. 3 in Net Now Looks Like a No. 1

  1. J.P. says:

    Good stuff, and here are a couple more eye-opening numbers for you – Johnny is now 9-3-3 with a 2.19 goals against average and a .925 save percentage as a starter under Bruce Boudreau.

  2. Grunthos says:

    OK, somebody’s got to throw the cold water around, it might as well be me. In 13,000 NHL minutes, he has a .903 save percentage. His record is 102-89-13 over that time, so he’s had some decent teams in front of him, or (more likely) weak opposition. What, exactly, makes his play so far this season different from the six games he played in St. Louis to start his career in 98-99 (.921 SV%)? Or the eight games he played in Phoenix in 2004 (.914 SV%)?
    We have a *lot* of evidence as to who Brent Johnson is. I’ve been very happy with him as our backup, and I would continue to be happy with him *as our backup*. It’s great that he’s stepped up when we need him, but he isn’t a #1 goalie for a contending club.
    To go anywhere in the playoffs, we either need to get Theodore’s head screwed on straight, or find some other option. The former would obviously be a lot more cost-effective at this point. So let’s not be so quick to bury Jose. I know you don’t like him, and by and large, I don’t either; but GMGM wasn’t given a free choice in the offseason, and we don’t have a free choice now. Theodore *can* be successful. If you want this team to win anything this year, may I politely suggest you start rooting for that?

  3. Something I’ve noticed is that his play style is very much like Olie. I know I constantly am reminded of a younger Kolzig watching him and for that reason alone I tend to feel safer with Johnny in net. I’m still not used to Jose and while he’s by no means terrible, at this point I feel much safer with Johnny.

  4. J.P. says:

    My thoughts on the situation are somewhat similar to Grunthos’s – I simply can’t envision any sort of magical long-term run with Johnny in net, but strangely can with JT60 back there.
    In the short-term, however, the team seems to be playing better for Johnson and I have no problem with Gabby playing the hot goalie while he still is that.

  5. Semin's Neighbor says:

    jose just needs to get in the zone or whatever! er, jose three-or-more… his GAA is 3.44!

  6. Jessie says:

    Johnson doesn’t have the chemistry with the team that Huet did, unfortunately, and save for one phenomenal game this season (Phoenix, anyone?) which his team didn’t even win, his performance has seemed shoddy at best. Theodore, as a whole, may have been a better goalie throughout his career than Johnson, but Johnson has not really even been given a chance to shine. Constantly in the shadows, he’s a talent and he’s showing that to D.C. fans game by game. Personally, I hope he continues to perform as stellar as he has. I’m sure Theodore is great, but I’d rather have an overperforming hometown backup than a former Vezina winner who had to be SENT HOME from a playoff game less than a year ago. I’m so excited Johnny’s finally getting his chance!

  7. I am bullish on both Johnnie and JT60; as Bruce Boudreau cited JT60 was awesome for the final 40 games of last season and a virtual WALL for the first round of the playoffs. I’m all for going with the HOT goalie the rest of the season and splitting 2/3rd to No 1 Theodore 1/3rd No 1B Johnnie when they are both “human”. Also my understanding is that his wife’s name is Danielle – that’s what they said during the Caps Cribs segment last season at least isn’t it see:
    LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!

  8. Mellyville9 says:

    Picked up Johnny for my Fantasy team this AM (Ellis, Bryzgalov, and Smith of TB are my others and needed some wins) Hopefully he can get a lot more for the Caps and me at the same time haha.

  9. Jessie says:

    THANK YOU PUCKS!!!!!!!!!
    from the first night Johnny stepped in for Theodore earlier this season, I knew something was different. It was apparent to me that he was sharper than Theo, more on his game. However, even more obvious to me were his team’s obvious trust in him and the chemistry he and the team have between them.
    Looking at Huet, it is easy to see that chemistry is everything. He was a fantastic fit for the Caps last season, and we’ve all seen his mediocre stats this year for Chicago.
    Johnny is the underdog you want to root for. He’s sharp, and one thing that really strikes me is the fact that when he makes a save, he rarely allows a rebound. In addition, his five-hole is not nearly as much of a problem as Jose’s. Jose seems jittery and unsure, and while he’s had a few phenomenal games, he’s inconsistent. Johnny is great, he’s consistent, and I am in love with both his story and the idea of him as #1. The man with such desire to play that he outperforms someone making over four times as much is exactly the kind of player I want standing between the pipes for my team.
    #1 for no. 1!!!!!

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