Greetings Habs Addicts!
|Photo: Courtesy of Canoe.ca|
On Tuesday, the Habs hung around all game long with the now 15-straight wins and counting Pittsburgh Penguins, losing a close one 1-0. Pittsburgh had scored at least 2 goals in each game prior to this match-up and are averaging 3.5 goals-per-game. They have also since shutout the Winnipeg Jets and the New York Islanders. So losing 1-0 is nothing to be ashamed of. More impressively, the Habs flew into Boston the next day and came back from allowing four goals in the 2nd period to tie the game 5-5 with 8 seconds left. And I'm sure we all saw the highlights. Brendan Gallagher won it for us in the shootout. A 6-5 victory of our greatest rival. Then we capped it off by shutting out the New York Rangers 3-0 for the second time this year, completing the sweep of the season series.
The 2012/13 season has been set up with the Habs working as a team. Aside from P.K. Subban, who is playing like a Norris Trophy winner, this years Canadiens are winning as a team. They are a team that is built on depth and are not top-heavy in elite talent like the Pittsburgh Penguins. Each game seems to have a different player or line combination stepping up to contribute. Lars Eller, Brandon Prust, Brendan Gallagher, Brian Gionta and Michael Ryder have all had great individual performances leading to wins this year. The comeback win against Boston was Peter Budaj's time to shine.
Budaj has played well this year, going 5-1-1 in his 7 games (6 starts). His defining moment (in my eyes, seeing as how it was my first Habs game in Montreal in 3 years) was his 3-0 shutout win over the Carolina Hurricanes back on February 18. His second defining moment came a few days ago, in relief of Carey Price in the Boston game. After Price allowed 4 goals in the second period (not all his fault, Montreal was out-shot 17-5 in the period), Michel Therrien turned to Budaj for the third period. Budaj did not disappoint, stopping 14/15 shots he faced in the third period and overtime, as well as all 6 shots he faced in the shootout and earning the win.
Budaj is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. His contract is modest at $1.2 million. The Montreal Gazette's Dave Stubbs wrote an article about how comfortable Budaj is in a backup role. He also indicated Budaj is the player Marc Bergevin should think about extending next. I would have to agree with Stubbs in that regard. Since signing with Montreal prior to last season, Budaj has been solid in relief of workhorse starter Price. In 2011/12, Budaj has a 5-7-5 record with a 2.55 Goals Against Average (GAA) and .913 save percentage (SV/PCT) in 17 games, all starts. Solid numbers for a backup. This year on top of his 5-1-1 record, his 2.47 GAA and .906 SV/PCT are very respectable numbers.
If the Habs wish to upgrade the position they can look at other options after the season through free agency. At a quick glance, the crop of free agents available this year (as of this posting) will either cost a lot more money than they are worth in a backup role (Mike Smith, Ray Emery) or are closer to the age of 40 than they are to 30 (Evgeni Nabokov, Nikolai Khabibulin, Mathieu Garon, Jose Theodore). If they wish to look towards the farm system for the answer, Dustin Tokarski has been extremely solid since being acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning for Cedric Desjardins. However, the Canadiens do lack solid NHL ready talent. Tokarski has potential to be a solid NHL goaltender. Robert Mayer is a prospect, one who I personally view as nothing more than a career AHL player who provides organizational depth. Carey Price is the present and future workhorse in goal. Budaj is an established NHL veteran and a capable starter is called upon. At $1.2 million and on a team with salary cap space to spare, there is no reason why an extension to a player who is certainly proving his worth this season is unreasonable.
What do you think: Should the Habs extend Budaj or should they pursue other options?
Nick M. is a transplanted Montrealer, currently living in evil LeafLand. He is a weekly contributor here at HabsAddict.com and give him a follow, as he can often be found rambling on Twitter.