Penguins' backup goalie Johnson resumes practice

Chris Harlan
| Saturday, March 24, 2012

An injury stole a month from Brent Johnson's season, but it hasn't taken his job.

Johnson will be the Penguins backup goalie once he fully recovers from the undisclosed ailment that has hampered him since late-February, coach Dan Bylsma said Friday.

First, Johnson has to get healthy.

The veteran goalie practiced yesterday with teammates for the first time since Feb. 23, when he left the ice early and Bylsma said Johnson "tweaked something." Little has been said about the nature of his injury since. Johnson again declined to discuss specifics but said he was "still not 100 percent."

"I want to make sure everything is ready to go before I get back out there in game situations," Johnson said, "but it's feeling better and better every day."

There aren't many days left.

Bylsma wants to see Johnson play one or two games before the playoffs, but the Penguins have only nine games remaining. That includes tonight against the Senators in Ottawa and Sunday against the New Jersey Devils at Consol Energy Center, neither of which will include Johnson.

"(He will) practice next week a couple of times," Bylsma said, "and if that continues to go well, then we'll look to get him back in the game at some point."

Bylsma said Marc-Andre Fleury could rest for three or four of the nine remaining games, leaving work for Johnson and rookie Brad Thiessen. But after just one practice, Johnson couldn't predict when he might return.

"As soon as the pain goes away 100 percent, I'll be ready to get back in there," Johnson said.

The 35-year-old has 12 seasons in the NHL, including the past three with the Penguins. Johnson has been healthy since needing hip surgery in 2009 while with the Washington Capitals.

He hasn't played since Feb. 19, when he was replaced in the second period of a 6-2 loss at Buffalo. It was his fifth loss in six games. Four days later, he left practice in pain.

"If you (play through the pain) for a while, it doesn't help yourself or the team," Johnson said.

He skated alone this week before being cleared yesterday for full practice in an optional workout at Southpointe that drew only six players. Among them were Johnson and Thiessen, who is 3-0 and has growing confidence among teammates. But Johnson said Thiessen's success hasn't rushed his recovery.

"It's not forcing (my) hand or anything like that," Johnson said. "I'm so happy that he played well and got three wins for us, big wins. That's really important."

Backup goalies typically are used little in the playoffs. Johnson has not started a playoff game for the Penguins, but twice replaced Fleury in lopsided losses.

After a month-long layoff, Johnson has a couple of weeks to make himself playoff ready.

"You want to get as much work before we get into the playoffs," he said, "just in case they need me."

Note: Defenseman Matt Niskanen and center Joe Vitale will not play tonight. Both have upper body injuries.

Additional Information:

Penguins gameday

At Senators

7 p.m. today, Scotiabank Place, Ottawa

TV/radio: Root Sports/WXDX-FM (105.9), Penguins Radio Network

Notable: The Penguins have won 13 of their past 14 games, with the only loss coming in overtime.

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