The Phoenix Coyotes just turned to a goaltender who hadn’t made an NHL start in three years. The result was the team’s best defensive effort of the season.
With starter Mike Smith injured and backup Jason LaBarbera struggling, coach Dave Tippett may again turn to Chad Johnson on Wednesday night when the Coyotes go for their sixth consecutive victory over the visiting Edmonton Oilers.
Called up from Portland of the AHL a day after Smith suffered a lower-body injury in last Wednesday’s 5-1 win over Columbus, Johnson made his Coyotes debut a memorable one Monday, turning aside 21 shots in a 4-0 win over Nashville. It was his first shutout in five career NHL starts.
LaBarbera gave up four goals in each of the previous two games while starting for the injured Smith. Both were Phoenix losses.
“You’re taking a chance on a young guy, but he stepped in and played real solid,” Tippett said after Johnson made his first since Jan. 31, 2010, while with the New York Rangers. “Nothing fancy, just solid, and I thought our team played solid in front of him.”
Smith is eligible to play Wednesday after the Coyotes (2-4-0) placed him on injured reserve Monday, retroactive to Jan. 23, but it sounds like he won’t be back until Friday’s game in Dallas at the earliest.
While LaBarbera has won all five of his starts against the Oilers, posting a 1.20 goals-against average, Johnson has never faced Edmonton but could be back between the pipes.
“You know that old saying `If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,'” Tippett said Monday. “I go by ‘If it’s not broke, you haven’t looked hard enough.’ So we’ll see.”
Whomever Tippett puts in net will face an Edmonton club that’s among the NHL leaders on the power play at 35.7 percent (10 for 28).
Jordan Eberle, Ales Hemsky, captain Shawn Horcoff and rookie No. 1 overall pick Nail Yakupov (empty-netter) all scored with the Oilers up a man in Monday’s 4-1 victory over Colorado.
Edmonton (3-2-0), though, has scored a Western Conference-low four even-strength goals.
“We were a little hesitant 5-on-5 and are struggling a bit, but when your power play is clicking, it helps a lot,” Eberle told the club’s official website. “We generated (four) goals on that and kept the puck out of our own net.”
Devan Dubnyk had his best performance of the season Monday, making 23 of his season-high 37 saves in the final 20 minutes. However, following each of the team’s previous two wins, he’s given up 10 total goals and lost both starts.
The Oilers haven’t posted back-to-back victories since March 23-25.
“To string a couple (wins) together is what we’re reaching for now, and that’s going to be critical to keep up with the pack,” first-year coach Ralph Krueger said.
Edmonton has strung together losses in five straight and 10 of 11 against Phoenix. The Oilers have won just once in their last seven visits to Glendale.
Radim Vrbata has keyed the Coyotes’ recent dominance in the series with five goals and seven assists in the past 11 meetings.