SUNRISE – For Brian Gionta, there’s a lot more to being captain than just contributing on the ice.
Leadership on tap: Brian Gionta may still be recovering from bicep surgery and unable to lead his team on the ice, but that doesn’t mean the Canadiens captain isn’t making his presence felt around the room. At an emotional time of the season, with the trade deadline directly around the corner, the 33-year-old forward made it a priority to be around the team for their three-game road trip to offer support wherever it was needed.
“It’s nice to be able to be around the team. Sometimes on a long road trip like this, you’re just sitting around at home and it gets tough. It’s good for me to be here with the guys and be able to go through what they’re going through,” expressed the Habs’ captain, whose season – much like his team’s – has been one decimated by injury.
“My rehab is going well and everything is on pace and feeling good, so it’s just a matter of time,” said Gionta of the surgery he underwent to repair a tear to his right bicep – an injury sustained against the St. Louis Blues, after only two games back from a lower-body injury. “We’re hoping to be ready at some point this season, but it’s probably doubtful.
“We have a lot of guys here that are professionals and that are winners and it’s been a tough year for us obviously, but this team has a bright future,” added Gionta in reference to members of the team’s young core of players. “We’ve dealt with a lot, but it’s also been a great opportunity for some young guys to have been given the chance to play and get experience so the future is bright that way.”
Between the pipes: With two games on hand for their swing through the Sunshine State, the Canadiens’ netminders will be splitting duties between the Panthers and Lightning. Getting a break for the middle segment of the trio of road games, Peter Budaj will take over for Carey Price in Sunrise Sunday night for his ninth start of the 2011-12 season.
“He’s been very patient and he’s ready to take on the task. I think the workload has been great on Carey Price who’s performed very well,” dropped Randy Cunneyworth of his decision to give his No. 1 goaltender the night off. Sunday’s start will mark the fourth of Budaj’s career against the Panthers. “We have the utmost confidence in Peter and his efforts have proven in the past that he’ll do a great job for us. We obviously have to do a great job in front of him – the two go hand in hand, and if one is missing, it’s obviously not good enough, so we all have to make sure we’re onboard and playing the right way.”
For his part, Budaj was more than happy to confirm that no matter what the team or the task at hand, he’s always ready to get the call when it comes his way.
“Every time you get a chance to play, it’s great. I always keep working hard because I strongly believe that the way you practice is the way that you play,” said the Slovak, who has a .906 save percentage over eight games with the Habs this season. “I want to make sure I always prepare myself well, physically and mentally so I’m ready whenever the coaches tell you to go in. Now I’m just looking forward to tomorrow.”
Justin Fragapane is a writer for canadiens.com. SEE ALSORapid firePostgame rundown Bulldogs cool Icecaps