As the trade deadline rapidly approaches, Sabres fans are hoping for a deal that will finally set the team up for success...even if it won’t happen this season. While those hopes rise and fall like notes in a sonata, the team’s roster is in a state of nearly constant flux, thanks to poor play, a lack of chemistry, and especially injuries.
The Sabres recalled goaltender Jonas Johansson following an injury that took Linus Ullmark out of the lineup. Johansson was thrust into NHL action almost immediately after backup Carter Hutton fell apart, allowing five goals on 13 shots against the Colorado Avalanche. The AHL All-Star allowed one goal in nearly 30 minutes of action, posting a .929 save percentage.
Johansson earned a start in the next game, dropping a shootout decision to Detroit. His second start came four days later - a Sunday tilt with the Anaheim Ducks . It was a tough go; Johansson gave up three goals in six minutes and put the team into a hole that they were unable to climb out of. He righted the ship, though, and shut the Ducks out for the final 48 minutes.
It’s been a long road for Johansson, who is getting his first look at the bigtime at the age of 24. He played much of the 2018-19 season in the ECHL and has just broken through to be a full-time AHL starter this year. A switch has certainly flipped for the Swedish netminder - he went from a .908 save percentage for the Cincinnati Cyclones to a .925 save percentage for the Rochester Americans - quite a jump in quality of competition, and therefore, a huge step forward in performance.
Because of his limited time in North American pro hockey, it’s difficult to say what one can expect from Johansson. It’s clear that he’s a placeholder of sorts; Ullmark is the starter for the near future, and the team is betting heavily on Ukka-Pekar Luukkonen, who is getting peppered in the AHL while Johansson plays up with Buffalo. Like many big Swedish goalies, Johansson plays deep in the crease and is good at controlling rebounds, capably recovering to be in good position to make a secondary save. He’s not great handling the puck, and thankfully he is aware of this weakness, so he is cautious when he does so.
It appears coach Ralph Krueger is playing his current netminding duo on an every-other-game rotation; we will see if that continues tonight when the Sabres take the ice against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It’s another tough matchup for Johansson; Columbus is fighting hard for a wildcard spot and sits just two points away from the New York Islanders for third place in the Metropolitan Division. The top four scorers for the Blue Jackets each carry a shooting percentage that is at least 10 percent; three are better than 12 percent.
Looking ahead, if the rotation sticks, he’ll get Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Vegas. Though Ottawa is beatable, Buffalo has struggled against bottom-dwellers, and the remaining two teams are tough opponents. It would be great to see Johansson get two wins in his next four starts - a little confidence could make a difference for the rookie. Hopefully the team can play well enough in front of him and get the scoring support he’ll need against quality opponents.