Johnson Gets Fresh Test in Start

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 16, 2007

OTTAWA, Jan. 15 -- Brent Johnson's last start in net for the Washington Capitals ended after only 7 minutes 30 seconds.

He yielded four goals on the first six shots he faced Dec. 26 in Buffalo, smashed his stick on the goal post, then hurled his helmet as he retreated to the bench. He hasn't started a game since.

That should change Tuesday night at Scotiabank Place, where the backup goalie is scheduled to get his first start in nearly three weeks against Dany Heatley and the powerful Ottawa Senators.

It's a critical test for the Capitals, who are coming off Saturday's woeful 7-3 loss to the Panthers in Florida, and for Johnson.

"It's tough when you're not playing," Johnson said after Monday's practice. "Especially because it gives you time to think about the goals [against the Sabres] all the time. But that's my job as a backup. No one is going to feel sorry for me. I have to go out and do my best and give these guys a chance to win."

Johnson played the third period against the Panthers, replacing Olie Kolzig, so he's had some work. But, as he pointed out, relief duty is much different mentally than starting in net, particularly when the opposition is as skilled and deep as Ottawa.

Heatley has eight goals and 15 points in the past six games, while Daniel Alfredsson has four goals and 13 points in the same span for the Senators, who are 9-1-1 in the past 11 games, including wins in four straight. They rank fifth in the tightly bunched Eastern Conference, nine points ahead of the 13th-place Capitals.

Scotiabank Place, however, is the site of one of Johnson's best games and the Senators are a team he's fared well against. Johnson stopped 46 shots to earn a 1-0 victory here on April 1 and has a career record of 3-0 with a 0.91 goals against average against Ottawa.

It's possible the 29-year-old will have to be as good for the Capitals to snap their two-game losing streak.

"Obviously, I had a good game last time here," Johnson said. "But I'm going to be thinking about the last game we played and the last time I started. I've got to negate some of the bad things that creep into your game because I haven't been playing."

There's less uncertainly off the ice these days for Johnson, however. He signed a two-year contract extension worth $1.625 million on Friday.

"I've been a one-year contract kind of guy for the last five, six years," Johnson said. "It's nice to have that set in stone. It's great to know I'm going to be with this group of guys who I would do anything for."

Capitals Note: Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon put forward Donald Brashear on the second line alongside Alexander Semin and center Kris Beech during practice Monday and said he might use the line combination against the Senators.

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