If the fact that Chad Johnson was the first goalie off the ice for the Phoenix Coyotes this morning ends up meaning that he gets the start against the St. Louis Blues this evening, then the team has made a wise decision. With starter Mike Smith still sidelined with a lower-body injury and backup Jason LaBarbera struggling in his absence, there is a very real chance Johnson gives the Coyotes the best chance to win as they fight for their playoff life.
Johnson appeared in three games for the Coyotes earlier this season, and is 2-0-1 with an impressive 1.32 goals-against average and one shutout. While he lacks the experience of LaBarbera, that may be just what the team needs at this point. Since being drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the fifth round of the 2006 draft, Johnson has spent the bulk of his career in the AHL. He made six appearances for the New York Rangers during his three seasons in the organization, and had 16 wins for the Portland Pirates (Coyotes’ AHL affiliate) this season before this latest call-up.
LaBarbera allowed four goals while facing 41 shots in a Monday loss to the San Jose Sharks, and has managed only three wins this season. Every point matters for the Coyotes, and it would appear coach Dave Tippett has elected to go with the hot hand. That’s what playoff hockey is all about, and with the way LaBarbera has played lately Johnson gives the team the better chance for a win tonight. He will be tested early and often by a potent Blues offense, but has a chance to be a hero if he can help the Coyotes get two huge points.