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Backup Johnson Has Started Off Strong

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 30, 2007

Asked why he has appeared more composed, confident and focused in the Washington Capitals' net, Brent Johnson paused for a moment, then smiled.

"Every single thing in my life is great right now," he said yesterday. "When I'm not here, I'm home getting lots of rest so I'm ready to go on the ice. This is the best I've ever felt. I'm confident in myself. I'm staying focused."

Johnson rededicated himself to his offseason training routine this summer, spending long days at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, working out in the weight room and sharpening his technique on the rink. He also got married in August.

The difference has been evident. Johnson owns a 1.14 goals against average and .941 save percentage in three preseason appearances. His best performance came Sept. 22 in Tampa, where he stopped 18 shots -- including all 10 in the third period -- to help the Capitals hang on for a 2-1 victory.

"He's had a really good camp and he looks ready to go," said Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon, whose team plays the Ottawa Senators in the preseason finale today at Verizon Center. "He had a bit of a lifestyle adjustment after getting married over the summer. Hopefully, it will all add up and he'll find his form."

Last season was a tough one for both the Capitals and Johnson. A month after signing a two-year contract extension, he was forced into everyday duty when Olie Kolzig suffered a knee injury in mid-February. Playing behind a weak lineup further hampered by injuries and trades, Johnson struggled, posting a 1-7-3 record during Kolzig's absence. He finished the season with a 6-15-7 record, a 3.61 goals against average and .889 save percentage.

"It just seemed last year when he was in net, he didn't get quite the support that I was getting," Kolzig said. "When I was backing up years ago, there were times where I wondered, 'What's going on here?' "

Johnson added, "It seemed like it was just one goal every game."

The knock on Johnson throughout his career has been his lack of consistency from game to game and period to period. He is 6 feet 3 and 210 pounds, boasts a lightning-quick glove hand and is popular in the locker room. But he is also susceptible to losing his focus for an instant, which most times is just long enough for a puck to trickle between his pads or for a short-angle shot to elude him.

That can't happen often if the Capitals are to return to the playoffs. After making 30 appearances last season and 26 the year before, Johnson figures to see as many, if not more, this season. Kolzig still is considered an elite goaltender, but he is 37 years old and the schedule includes 17 sets of back-to-back games.

"I just want everyone to have faith in me," Johnson said. "If everyone, including myself, plays up to their abilities, I honestly think this could be a special, special season for us."

Capitals Notes: Defenseman Josef Boumedienne and right wing Joe Motzko cleared waivers yesterday and were assigned to Hershey (Pa.) of the American Hockey League. Defenseman Jame Pollock is expected to join them if he clears. . . .

Left wing Alexander Semin, who left Friday's 7-5 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers after suffering a right ankle sprain midway through the second period, did not practice yesterday and was seen limping as he left the practice facility, with his ankle tightly wrapped. It's unclear whether he'll miss any playing time.

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