BROSSARD – With just three games remaining on the Canadiens’ preseason schedule, Michel Therrien is facing some hard choices in the not so distant future.
On Tuesday, the veteran bench boss put the 34 players remaining at training camp through a fast-paced workout at the Bell Sports Complex, as he continued to evaluate a host of candidates battling for coveted full-time spots at several key positions up front and on the back end, and particularly in goal.
In his post-practice press conference, Therrien didn’t mince words about just how trying an experience it can be to cut a roster down to size, especially when the players themselves are meeting expectations and doing everything that’s been asked of them and more. Nevertheless, it’s a part of the job he’s always taken in stride.
“What’s difficult is that we’re satisfied with the way a lot of our youngsters have performed, and we’re satisfied with the way our three goaltenders have played as well. We’ve seen the progression in our young players at every position,” offered Therrien, who confirmed that many of those young guns would suit up against the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night in the Windy City, while also indicating that Carey Price would get the start in goal for a second straight game. “We’ll let training camp continue. There will be some really tough decisions to make. That’s a good sign. It often happens that you don’t have the luxury of making those types of decisions. I look at it as a positive. We have depth. Our youngsters are developing well. It’s a lot tougher this year than in previous years.”
Case in point is the aforementioned situation between the pipes. Dustin Tokarski stormed onto the Montreal hockey scene last May with one remarkable performance after another in relief of an injured Price during the Eastern Conference Finals, while Peter Budaj watched from the bench. Now, Therrien & Co. will eventually have to decide which of the two will assume the back-up role in 2014-15.
“The way the guys perform is the top criteria. [Goaltending coach] Stephane Waite has done extraordinary work with his goaltenders. They’re well-prepared, and they’ve delivered. I’m talking and kind of skating around the issue as much as possible right now, though, because I don’t have much to say,” stressed Therrien, who praised Tokarski’s most recent outing against the Colorado Avalanche in Quebec City, before confirming that Budaj would also get a shot at playing a complete game before the preseason comes to a close. “There are a lot of things to take into consideration when it comes to this type of decision. I don’t want to elaborate on it too much, though.”
If Therrien is feeling the inevitable pressure that accompanies making critical decisions like that one, Budaj isn’t placing any added weight on his shoulders while fighting to secure a job he’s held since the 2011-12 campaign.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure. I still have to go out there. It doesn’t matter what the situation is. Everybody knows me. I go out and work and give it my best shot. I just keep moving. I’ll try to let my actions show everybody that I’m a good goalie. There’s no need to worry about that. I’m just going to play hard and work hard. That’s it,” offered Budaj, who posted a 10-8-3 record in 24 games with the Canadiens in 2013-14, while registering a 2.51 goals-against average along the way.
“I’m not thinking about the situation whatsoever. I’m just going to go out there and try to stop the puck,” added the nine-year NHL veteran, who picked up the win in his lone preseason outing back on Sept. 25, turning aside all 17 shots he faced in 31 minutes of playing time in a 3-2 overtime victory over Colorado. “We have the easier job out there. We don’t have to worry about systems or anything like the coaches. We just have to go out there and help the team win games. That’s it.”
Intent on letting his play do the talking for him, the 32-year-old is adamant he’s in a good place with a decision on his immediate future set to be made in the coming days.
“You work hard to perform every single day. It doesn’t matter what the situation is. I’m not thinking about it, though. I’m coming to the rink in a good mood every day,” concluded Budaj. “We’re blessed to be able to do this job. That’s what I focus on, and that’s what I want to do.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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