The Curious Case of Brent Johnson

Much has been made about the goaltending situation in Pittsburgh this year. Marc Andre Fleury has played wonderfully, but he is also on pace to play in 70 games this season (well technically it is 69.7, but who’s counting). This is normally viewed as a death sentence for goalies that expect to make a deep playoff run.

Brent Johnson, who has been a revelation for the Penguins throughout most of his tenure here, has underwhelmed this season. After playing in 23 games in both of his 2 full seasons here, going the distance in every start he had, Johnson has only appeared in 13 games this season, and has been pulled 3 times. This isn’t going to cut it. Further this underwhelming play really gained a lot of national attention after Johnson’s last start, a 6-2 drubbing by the lowly Buffalo Sabres on NBC’s national broadcast of Hockey Day in America, in which Johnson was pulled after allowing 3 goals on 12 shots (for the record, Fleury ended up allowing 3 goals on 12 shots as well, but no one in the media seemed to care about this).

We truly are not that far removed from the Dany Sabourin, Mathieu Garon generation of Penguin back ups, who struggled to make it out of the first period, let alone play 20 full games a season. This is why it has been such a luxury to have Johnson around for the last few years.

It looked like the end of the line for Johnson after it was announced that the Penguins had recalled Brad Thiessen from Wilkes-Barre Scranton. But this was a great exaggeration, as it turns out that Johnson was just sick. However, this hasn’t stopped the debate about whether the Pens need to look at a different back up.

The Pens are firmly in the playoff picture, however, average play by the Rangers and Flyers, and improved play by the Devils have brought the Pens right back to a battle for the top of the division, and the top of the conference.

Sidebar: how good is the Atlantic Division this season? Currently Atlantic Division teams are 1,4,5,6 in the Conference standings, literally the top four seeds they could hold. Further the Bruins are the only other team in the East with as many points as the 4th ranked team in the Atlantic (which happens to be the Pens) – 74 to 73.

This means that the Pens really can’t take any games off, and they can’t afford to play a back up goalie if it will indubitably result in a loss. I really like Johnny, and I blame a lack of quality team defense for a lot of his struggles this season, but ultimately this is a scenario that is difficult to predict. The Pens have back-to-back games this weekend; this could be his last chance to prove that he can be the rock solid back up that we have all come to expect him to be.

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