Brent Johnson Ready to Be a Starting Goalie…Again

Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Brent Johnson makes a second period save against Montreal Canadiens center Tom Pyatt during Game 7 of their NHL Eastern Conference semi-final hockey series in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, May 12, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Cohn (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote “There are no second acts in American lives,” which makes it especially vindicating that goalie Brent Johnson, an American playing a Canadian game, seems to be in the throes of a genuine second act.

Johnson, signed as a backup by the Penguins last year and given a two-year extension last April, seems to have suddenly played Marc-Andre Fleury out of his starting job.

Fleury’s made three starts this season, giving up 10 goals, for a 3.41 goals against and .853 save percentage.

That was enough for coach Dan Bylsma to turn to Johnson and Johnson has run with the responsibility, putting up a 1.32 goals against and .953 save percentage in his first three starts, going into last night’s two goal game against Ottawa, which Johnson also started ahead of Fleury.

For Johnson, it’s a return to grace.

At one time Johnson seemed to be the St. Louis Blues’ goaltending savior. From 2000 to 2003, Johnson started 127 games for the Blues, earning 69 wins, a .903 save percentage, and a 2.27 goals against.

They were solid numbers but Johnson was haunted by injuries, including an ankle sprain that refused to heal at the end of 2002.

The following season Johnson was pushed out by Chris Osgood, starting him on a journey around the NHL, his confidence seemingly shattered.

Johnson found consistent work as a dependable backup, but never really threatened to emerge as a starter.

But now that Fleury is in a goaltending freefall and now that Bylsma seems to have run out of patience with Fleury, it’s Johnson’s time to shine once again.

Dave Molinari isn’t sure Johnson has what it takes to lead a team, goaltending-wise.

That might be true, but Fleury’s career has been defined by a lack of consistency. He’s often found himself in funks like the one with which he started this season. The fact that Johnson is getting starts so early in the season could be a sign the organization is getting tired of Fleury’s inconsistency.

Fleury’s career numbers are solid enough, but I can’t imagine there’s anyone in the Pittsburgh organization who feels comfortable having Fleury in big game situations. He entered the NHL much more slowly and hesitantly than the Penguins would have liked and he’s never stepped into the game-changing goalie role the organization had him penciled in for when he was drafted with the first overall pick of 2003.

It’s too early to say Johnson has what it takes to back a team like the Penguins that’s always in the playoff mix. It’s too early to say Johnson can handle the workload of a starting goalie. And it’s way too early to say Johnson is sturdy enough for the Penguins to depend on.

But if I’m Marc-Andre Fleury, I’m starting to get a little nervous.

And if I’m the Penguins, I’m starting to get a little nervous that my already squirrely starting goalie is starting to get nervous.

So if the Penguins are really considering going with Johnson as their starting goalie, they better be certain. Because I’m not sure the Penguins will be able to rebuild Fleury’s confidence if he does lose his starting job.

Fleury doesn’t seem like he has a second act in him.