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Peter Budaj making most of chance with Kings

Backup goalie excelling in place of injured starter Jonathan Quick

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

MONTREAL -- If there is one team that understands what the Los Angeles Kings are going through, it would be their next opponent, the Montreal Canadiens.

And if there is one player with a firm grasp of what it's like to replace a franchise goalie, it is Peter Budaj of the Kings.

He did that a few times during three seasons in Montreal when starter Carey Price was injured, and he's doing it now with Los Angeles filling in for Jonathan Quick, who is expected to be out until at least January with a groin injury.

Budaj is expected to face Price in his first game in Montreal since leaving after the 2013-14 season on Thursday at Bell Centre (7:30 p.m. ET; SN360, RDS, FS-W, NHL.TV), and he couldn't be any hotter.

Video: LAK@TOR: Budaj denies big rebound chance in front

Budaj comes into the game off back-to-back shutouts for the first time in his NHL career, a 5-0 win against the Calgary Flames on Saturday and a 7-0 win at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday. He is 7-3-0 with a 1.86 goals against average and .919 save percentage, making Quick's absence far easier to digest for the Kings, who are 7-6-0.

Not bad for someone who played the past two seasons in the American Hockey League.

"It's really an amazing thing for me to be back and to play in the NHL, I'm very thankful," Budaj said Wednesday. "Obviously you don't want to go to the net when somebody gets hurt. It's always tough, and you don't wish anybody bad. But on the other hand, it's a chance for me to show people I can still do it, I can still play. I still love the game, so I'm really excited and enjoying the moment."

Budaj, who turned 34 on Sept. 18, is uniquely positioned to know what it's like to be in the position he's in now, and in a way, his time playing behind Price in Montreal helped prepare him.

"It's never easy," Budaj said. "Filling the shoes of Carey Price is not an easy job, it's very hard, especially in a city like Montreal. Everybody expects only wins, nothing else, nothing short of that. It's very difficult.

"[Quick] is up there with [Price]; they're probably the two best goalies in the League. I think the main thing is, you don't want to try to be Jonathan Quick. There's only one Jonathan Quick, there's only one Carey Price. You cannot be somebody else; you just have to try to play your game and work on the stuff that works for you and do your best to help the team win a game."

Mike Condon found out how hard it is to replace Price when he was with the Canadiens last season. Condon struggled after Price's season ended Nov. 25 because of a sprained MCL in his right knee. The Canadiens never recovered, going 21-34-4 after the injury and missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Condon is now with the Ottawa Senators.

The difference for Budaj is that the Kings play a very different brand of hockey, one that allows them to maintain possession of the puck in the offensive zone more often than not. The Kings have led the NHL in shot attempt percentage, a proven proxy for puck possession, in each of the past five seasons and lead again this season at 56.52 percent.

"They block a lot of shots, they don't allow many goal-scoring chances, and that makes my job a lot easier," Budaj said. "So credit to the team, the guys are doing a great job."

Video: CGY@LAK: Budaj uses quick glove, snags tip-in attempt

After a 4-6-0 start, the Kings have won three in a row. They have not allowed an opponent to reach 30 shots on goal in 11 straight games and lead the League in fewest shots on goal allowed per game (24.6).

The Canadiens have allowed 34.4 shots on goal per game, the most in the NHL. But they have Price.

Kings coach Darryl Sutter did not want to say they are better prepared to lose someone like Quick because Sutter believes a team can go without its No. 1 goalie only for so long. But he was willing to admit that the Kings' style of play allows them to handle an injury like this better than most teams.

"We've weathered storms for six years, and the way we've done it is to be a high-possession team," Sutter said. "When you're a high-possession team you don't play very much in your own zone. That means you have the puck more than the other team and it allows you to take some pressure off your goalie. We take pride in not giving up a lot of shots, and with that, that's the quality part of it. That's the reason we've been able to win a lot of games the last few years."

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