Johnson Always Ready
Aaron Johnson brings strong work ethic into the B's lineup in McQuaid's absence
But when General Manager Peter Chiarelli announced Wednesday afternoon that Adam McQuaid would be out 3-4 weeks with a shoulder strain, one that he sustained early in the first period of Tuesday's game in Winnipeg, it appeared Johnson would get his chance for a more consistent role in the lineup.
Following pregame skate in Ottawa Thursday morning before facing the Senators, Johnson knew what a loss McQuaid would be to the B's back end, but was rightfully excited to be relied upon in his absence.
"Obviously, very excited," said Johnson, on the chance to get into the lineup. "You prepare for this kind of situation, you prepare in practice and off the ice. You never hope for this situation. But you just kind of prepare."
It's bound to happen throughout the course of the season, and especially in one as compact as this shortened one, that injuries arise. Before Chris Kelly suffered a broken left tibia that sidelined him indefinitely a few weeks ago, the B's had stayed fairly healthy through the beginning of the 2012-13 campaign.
Besides a few games here or there, where Johnson had to step in for McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg, Johnson had been quietly coming to the rink every day with a huge smile on his face, ready to work relentlessly to stay in game shape. The defenseman is always one of the first B's on the ice at practices, and has certainly been putting in the work ethic.
"He's had a great attitude all along. He's worked hard and he's kept himself sharp," Coach Julien said of Johnson, following the Bruins' pregame skate at Scotiabank Place.
Heading into tonight, the defenseman may have only played five games this season, but he also brings 286 games of NHL experience, since cracking the Columbus Blue Jackets' roster in 2003-04.
"He's a guy that's played in this league a long time, so his experience is certainly going to help him," said Coach Julien. "He's into the groove of things, now he's got an opportunity to play on more of a consistent basis."
"And we're extremely confident that he'll do well. I'm happy for him. You never like to see injuries, but this is a great opportunity for him."
Back on March 15, after Johnson had suited up against the Panthers, he spoke about the time he spent learning from the other Bruins in his D-corps, and that experience is definitely something he'll look to bring into tonight.
"You just learn from other players. You watch Chara, Ference, Boychuk, McQuaid and our defensemen, their confidence with the puck and the time that they take to make sure you make the right plays," Johnson had told me. "You’re constantly trying to find new things that you can bring into your game and use when you play."
For Johnson, he's not being expected to replicate any of the aforementioned or McQuaid's exact style of play, but will look to play a simple, tough game.
"I think it's just a matter of playing my game," said the defenseman. "I've played in a couple games this year, I think that's definitely helped. It's just a matter of going out and playing my game."
"Just play well physically, play well defensively, try and get shots through to the net, just all the basic stuff. Keep it simple. That will be our goal tonight."
One of the B's blueliners who will also be called upon to log minutes in McQuaid's absence is Dennis Seidenberg, who tallied over 27 minutes on the ice Tuesday night once McQuaid went down and the B's could only play with five defensemen.
Being alongside Johnson on and off the ice, he knows what the defenseman can bring tonight against the Senators.
"It's a tough job to come in and not have played for a few weeks here and there," acknowledged Seidenberg. "But he's been doing a great job keeping himself in shape and being game ready. I don't think we expect anything else tonight."
And Johnson won't be the only one relied on without McQuaid - as the B's have said before, it's about everyone chipping in for a collective team effort.
"Every time somebody goes out of the lineup, you've got to pick up the slack," said Seidenberg.
"Quaider's a physical presence and AJ's the same player, plays tough and keeps the game simple. As a whole, we have to just keep playing solid, simple hockey and we'll be fine."
By keeping it simple and bringing a physical game tonight, the Bruins will also be hoping to get back to their shutdown third-period mentality.
"We're used to closing out games once we're up and for whatever reason we haven't been doing that," said Seidenberg.
"Tonight is another chance for us to get the record straight."