When Jonathan Quick went down with a groin injury just 20 minutes into the Los Angeles Kings’ season things looked grim. When it was announced that Quick would miss an extended amount of time, things went from bad to worse.
What was going to happen to the Kings? Can Los Angeles survive while Quick is on the mend? Will the playoffs still be possible once the star goalie returns? Question after question surfaced around the team. But while, just a few weeks ago, nothing seemed certain, now there may be an answer in Peter Budaj.
When Quick originally went down it was backup Jeff Zatkoff who was next in line. Zatkoff played in 14
regular season games and two playoff games for the Pittsburgh Penguins last season. However, as quickly as Zatkoff got his shot to hold down the crease for Los Angeles, it was taken away with a groin injury of his own.
Budaj was thrust into a fire. The fans were panicking. Writers everywhere were dismissing the Kings that all was lost. There was nothing he could do to save the Kings.
Well, before he was a part of the Kings organization, he was part of the Colorado Avalanche and Montreal Canadiens where he combined for just under 300 games. He’s not just someone off the street.
Last season, Budaj’s first season with the Kings, he dressed for one game, a game he won. But the big thing to take away from Budaj’s 2015-16 season was his performance with the Kings’ AHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign.
At the conclusion of the 2015-16 season, it was announced that Budaj had won the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding goaltender. Budaj went 41-14-4 with the Reign and led the league in wins, goals against average (1.74), save percentage (.932) and shutouts (9). He was just the second goalie in the past 50 years to win 40 games in a season.
Since Budaj has taken over the crease in Los Angeles, his stellar play from last season has carried over from Ontario. The 34-year-old has started ten games and has a 7-3-0 record, with a 1.86 goals against average and .919 save percentage in 11 total appearances.
Budaj’s last two wins have come via shutouts, his first a 5-0 win against the Calgary Flames on Saturday night and his latest was a 7-0 shutout over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.
The Kings are in the midst of a five-game road trip that has stops in Montreal and Ottawa on back-to-back nights, and Winnipeg and Colorado before the team returns to Los Angeles. Budaj likely won’t start all four of the remaining games, especially with a back-to-back sprinkled in there, but the Kings would love for Budaj’s hot streak to carry them through the team’s first extended road trip of the season.
Looking at the big picture, when the Kings lost both Quick and Zatkoff and were forced to call up not one, but two, AHL goalies to suit up for the big club, many, including myself, thought all was lost. Not many teams can lose their workhorse in the crease and then his back up and come out still fighting for a playoff spot. But, Budaj is giving the Kings a chance.
Every win the Kings get while Quick is working towards his return is a gift and Budaj is currently handing out party favors. Budaj isn’t a shooter tutor out there just to plug a hole while the Kings pack it in for the season. Budaj has a history in the NHL, was a stud in the AHL last year and could keep the Kings afloat until Quick rides in to save the day.
Eric received his BA in Journalism from California State University, Northridge. Eric has contributed to RinkRoyalty.com, Buffalowdown.com and California Rubber Magazine.