Penguins goaltender Johnson has many NHL ties

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MONTREAL -- He calls Sidney Crosby, his new teammate, "very, very nice," but so far Brent Johnson has not told the Penguins' popular center that he is not Johnson's favorite NHL player named Sid.

That would be Sid Abel, a Hall of Fame winger who played mostly for Detroit in the NHL and a season with the Pittsburgh Hornets in the late 1930s. And who was Johnson's grandfather.

Johnson, who signed with the Penguins in July as their backup goaltender, has hockey in his blood. His father, Bob Johnson, was an NHL goaltender who played for the Penguins briefly in the mid-1970s.

Tonight in Toronto, Johnson is expected to play his first full preseason game with the Penguins. He sat out last night, when the team lost to Montreal, 4-3, at Bell Centre.

Johnson started the Penguins' second preseason game Friday, giving up three power-play goals on eight shots as he split time in net with No. 1 goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in a 4-3 loss to Toronto at Mellon Arena.

"I didn't have the debut I wanted to have here," said Johnson, 32, who has played for St. Louis, Phoenix and, most recently, Washington. He has a career record of 111-94 and a 2.63 goals-against average.

He gets another shot tonight as he continues the Pittsburgh hockey connection in his family, and he knows what Abel, who died in 2000, would have said.

"I'm happy that he saw me play in the NHL, but that was early in my career, and, when we talked, it was mostly little motivational things -- 'Keep your dobber up,' he'd say to me all the time," Johnson said.

"But me and my dad are like best friends, him being a goaltender and going through a lot of the stuff that a lot of goaltenders do. He was definitely a lot of help for me when I was younger, growing up."

Johnson is a student of the game, and he got that attribute from another family member.

"I can say my mom probably knows hockey better than my grandfather and my father," he said of Linda Johnson. "She's been around it her whole entire life. She knows both aspects of things, the [skaters] and the goalie. She's the consummate hockey mom."

Outside of technique, Johnson at one point was like his father, who was a product of an earlier era.

"He and I are totally two different entities when it comes to personalities on and off the ice," Johnson said. "We had different demeanors out on the ice. He was tougher. He wouldn't take any stuff in front of the net. I used to be that way, but, if you want to play a long time, you've got to be calm in there as much as you can."

Johnson thought he had a jump on every facet coming to a new team. He showed up a couple weeks before training camp to get to know some of the Penguins. He even had a new mask made. It has a Led Zeppelin theme and his father and grandfather's numbers on the back. It arrived, however, with the former penguin head logo on the chin, so he had to send it back to have the current skating penguin painted on. He expects to get the new mask today in Toronto and might wear it in the game if it feels comfortable.

One thing Johnson has done from his first practice is be vocal in helping the teammates in front of him with positioning. He uses clear, loud cues, and the defensemen are listening.

"Some of our guys are gone," Sergei Gonchar said of some summer roster turnover. "Communication is going to be a huge part of our game. When you have a goalie who has that presence, that is helping everybody. That's what a veteran does.

"Sometimes, the little things from that communication, the little positioning, helps so you aren't running around."

Johnson said he is fully recovered from hip surgery that shortened his 2008-09 season and opened the door in the playoffs for Washington rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov to shine. He also knows he could spend a lot of time at the end of the Penguins' bench or in the runway, considering Fleury likes a heavy workload.

"Just getting to play here as much as I can is going to be a benefit for me," Johnson said.


NOTES -- The Penguins dressed their top power-play unit -- defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Kris Letang on the points and forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Bill Guerin -- and they got a goal from Guerin in the third period but also yielded a short-handed goal to Montreal's Scott Gomez that tied the score, 2-2, at 1:40 of the third period. ... Malkin and Gonchar scored at even strength in the second period. ... Crosby and Malkin also were used together as penalty-killers. ... Brian Gionta scored in the first and third periods for Montreal, and Guilliaume Latendresse scored for the Canadiens in the third. ... Coach Dan Bylsma said the two preseason games remaining after tonight -- Thursday at Columbus and Sunday at Detroit -- would be "dress rehearsals" for the regular season. ... Crosby took a high stick from Montreal's Jaroslav Spacek and got a bloody right nostril. ... Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis left in the third period with an apparent knee injury.


Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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