The Montreal Canadiens will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at the Bell Centre but will be without starting goaltender Carey Price for the third straight game, leaving Peter Budaj to take over the Canadiens crease.
Price represented Canada at the Olympic Games in Sochi, winning gold last week but was apparently playing through an injury. He re-aggravated the lower body injury immediately upon returning to the Canadiens practice on Wednesday and missed a pair of games against the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Peter Budaj started both games, and though he looked shaky at times, he helped the team earn three out of a possible four points. The Habs were dominated at times by the Red Wings, but were able to hang on and tie the game in the final minute. Detroit would eventually win the game when Gustav Nyquist scored with 27 seconds to go in the extra period.
Budaj stopped 28 of 30 shots that night and held the Canadiens in the game as they spun their tires in the second period. Montreal did not deserve a point, but Budaj stole one for them against a division rival.
Budaj was not in the three star conversation when the Canadiens traveled to Pittsburgh on Thursday night, but they came away with a 6-5 shootout victory. Budaj struggled, but stopped James Neal, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the shootout to give the Habs an extra point.
It was far from ideal, but to be fair to Budaj, he was solid, if unspectacular against Detroit, and then had a difficult night against one of the top scoring teams in the league. It was also the first time since Budaj became a Montreal Canadiens that he was called upon to start two nights in a row, so for one am willing to give him a mulligan for his game against Pittsburgh.
Heading into tonight’s game with a day of rest, Budaj boasts pretty impressive stats on the season. He currently has a record of 7-4-2 with a 2.16 goals against average and a .920 save percentage. The Leafs are a high scoring team, but Budaj has won three out of four games against Toronto in his career, with an excellent 1.55 GAA against the Habs oldest rival.
The Canadiens are in good hands with Price injured, as long as it is short term. Budaj has been great in his three season with the Montreal Canadiens. Tonight will be his 17th game of the season, and that matches his total from 2011-12, the most he played as a Habs.
So Montreal does not desperately need Price back today, but will need him to return soon if Montreal is going to hold on to the second seed in the Atlantic Division. I feel confident the Habs can win against the Leafs with Budaj in net, but Montreal has a tough road trip to the west coast coming up against some of the top teams in the league, and will need their Vezina Trophy candidate back in time for that grueling test.