Nice night for former Whale mainstay Chad Johnson Monday, as he rang up his first career NHL shutout, in his first Phoenix Coyotes appearance, a 4-0 home win over the Nashville Predators.
It’s an all ex-Whale/Wolf Pack goaltending tandem right now for former Hartford Whaler Dave Tippett’s Coyotes. Johnson is up from Portland to replace Mike Smith, who is injured, and Phoenix’ other ‘tender is none other than Jason LaBarbera.
The Phoenix telecast had a neat shot of LaBarbera, sporting an impressive pre-playoff beard, congratulating Johnson right after the final horn, and that is a portrait of the two netminders who have played the most games in Whale franchise history. Johnson appeared in 136 Wolf Pack/Whale contests over three seasons before signing with Phoenix as a free agent this past summer, and LaBarbera saw action in 182 games for the Pack from 2000-01 through 2004-05.
Johnson stopped 21 shots in Monday’s game, which was his first NHL appearance since March 31, 2011, when he played one period of mop-up duty for the Rangers in relief of Henrik Lundqvist in a 6-2 loss at the Islanders, and only his fifth career NHL start. In another cool twist, Monday was the first time Johnson’s parents had seen him play an NHL game in person.
After the game, Johnson said to NHL.com’s Jerry Brown, “It was an easy game, and I had a lot of help. I wanted to help the team win and the opportunity was there tonight. I wasn’t nervous, but I didn’t know what to expect because it’s been awhile since I’ve been in NHL action. Getting my feet wet in the first period was important.
“My parents never had a chance to see me play in the NHL, I’m sure Mom might be crying a little bit. We were going to spend some time with me in Boston and New York, but we had a change of plans. The weather is warmer here and I think everyone’s pretty happy with how it turned out.”
NHL.com reported that Smith skated by himself Sunday and Monday, but made it sound like his return was not imminent, so Johnson may get another couple of shots to show whether he can be a consistent success at the NHL level.
LaBarbera had started Phoenix’ previous two games, after coming in for Smith midway through the first period of a 5-1 win over Columbus on Wednesday.