The Calgary Flames’ net will see a bit of a shakeup against the Boston Bruins. Since Brian Elliott is sick, Chad Johnson will get the start against one of his many former teams.
It’s been a bit of an odd season for Johnson. Slated to start as the backup, he did just that – until he caught fire and entered a brief god tier in November, including three shutouts. He kept the Flames’ season somewhat afloat back then, and took over the starter’s reins himself.
Until he came crashing back down to earth in one of the worst ways possible, culminating in giving up three goals on four shots to the Edmonton Oilers. Then he gave up five goals to the Montreal Canadiens, everyone freaked out, Glen Gulutzan and some players had some beers, and a “win and you’re in” system was implemented. It lasted for a couple of weeks, until Elliott lost an overtime game to the Vancouver Canucks in which his team outplayed the other yet again – and got the next start, because he deserved it.
Not only does he have the pedigree, but he had completely turned the corner, too, and Elliott is now firmly the Flames’ starter. To cement it there have been games he’s flat out stolen during this streak, and a handful of individual periods to go with it while waiting for the rest of his team to catch up: something Johnson hadn’t been able to provide as of late.
Neither goalie is particularly in danger of being overworked – Johnson has started 33 games this season, Elliott 36 – but you probably still want to use both. And don’t forget, for all of Johnson’s struggles as his play collapsed from underneath him, he’s still an extremely quality backup goalie. Not necessarily starter material, but there’s no reason to panic with him in net.
Johnson has played just once over the course of the Flames’ 10-game win streak, the second of a back-to-back on Nov. 24: a 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers, in which he stopped 36 of 38 shots for a .947 save percentage.
But with no more back-to-backs left, when do you play him, exactly? It would be silly to go back to a “win and you’re in” system; you don’t bench your starter for a loss. It may have made sense two months ago, but not anymore.
So – assuming Elliott’s illness is one of those 24 hour things, and no more ailments will befall either Flames goalie – when else, other than hosting the Bruins, does Johnson get in?
The remaining schedule
There will be 12 games to follow. Seven of them are divisional games: three against the Kings, two against the Ducks, and two against the Sharks. Considering the Flames’ ongoing battle not just for a playoff spot, but home ice in the playoffs, you have to give those games to Elliott, which means he closes out the season.
That leaves five games left: the Stars, the Capitals, the Predators, the Blues, and the Avalanche. Two of those teams – the Stars and Avalanche – are under .500 teams and firmly not in the playoff conversation, so it may make sense to give those ones to Johnson to keep him fresh. The Stars one works because it’s the Flames’ next game on tap, so if Elliott is still under the weather, it gives them a little more leeway.
The other three teams, though? The Capitals are one of the top teams in the NHL, so you have to think that one goes to Elliott. The Flames are still in part battling with the Predators and Blues for a playoff spot, so you have to think those go to Elliott, too.
That doesn’t leave Johnson with much left, but if he gets the starts against Dallas and Colorado, then in addition to Boston, he’d top out at 36 starts on the season, while Elliott would get 46 – the most games he’d have started since the 2010-11 season, before he joined the St. Louis Blues.
And ultimately, considering both goalies’ seasons, that’s not a bad split.