Buffalo Sabres: Scratching Ryan Johnson for any more games would make no sense

The Buffalo Sabres have started January 2024 off with a 3-1-0 record, and if they’re finally getting hot, they must play the right players if they’re healthy.

Dec 30, 2023; Buffalo, New York, USA;  Buffalo Sabres defenseman Ryan Johnson (33) skates with the
Dec 30, 2023; Buffalo, New York, USA; Buffalo Sabres defenseman Ryan Johnson (33) skates with the / Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
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Buffalo Sabres rookie defenseman Ryan Johnson finally saw the ice again in Thursday night’s win over the Ottawa Senators for the first time since the Blue and Gold lost to them by four goals on New Year’s Eve. If you’re doing the math, that’s nearly a two-week layoff in between games and it’s inexcusable, given how well Johnson has played this season. 

But even when he has played, Johnson has seen just 14:04 of average time on ice, even if that number has risen slightly in the previous two contests at 17:25 and 15:10, respectively. Yet limiting Johnson’s ice time is inexcusable at this point, as he’s been one of the bright spots on what has once again been an inconsistent defensive rotation. 

He has just three hits and 10 takeaways, but he’s often getting in front of shots with 24 blocks on the year, including a jaw-dropping six this past Thursday. When Johnson is on the ice, opponents have also had a tough time finding the back of the net, with the Sabres boasting an on-ice save percentage of 94.5 at even strength and 95.1 at 5-on-5 as the rookie has done his part to make things difficult for them.

Buffalo Sabres have zero excuses to sit Ryan Johnson in 2024

What’s more is the fact the Blue and Gold have possession of the puck more often with Johnson in the game, possessing a Corsi For Percentage (CF%) of 51.7 and a Fenwick For (FF%) of 51.5 at 5-on-5. Those numbers are similar at even strength, and it implies how well Johnson helps the Sabres transition the puck. 

It’s long past due for the Buffalo Sabres to expand Ryan Johnson’s role, and hopefully the increased ice time we have seen in the previous two games will foreshadow that. The Blue and Gold are in win-now mode, so the impact players, when healthy, need as much ice time as they can handle, and Johnson is no exception to that. 

Even if it means scratching a veteran defenseman like Erik Johnson or Connor Clifton to make room for Ryan, it must be done. He’s fared too well this season to be sitting in the press box while the Sabres are struggling on the ice with a veteran rotation. 

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(Statistics and metrics provided by Hockey-Reference)