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Monday, January 16, 2017

Kings Still Clinging to a Wild Card Spot Mid-Way Through the Season and Peter Budaj is a Big Part of the Reason Why

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Peter Budaj, St. Louis Blues vs. Colorado Avalanche - 2010–11 NHL season. 
Many of us, myself included, thought the Kings were unlikely to make post season after both Jonathan Quick and Jeff Zatkoff suffered groin injuries in the first weeks of the 2016-17 season. There have been several players on the Kings team that have stepped up their game to keep the Kings in playoff contention, but no one more surprising then their now lead goaltender Peter Budaj. Right now at the mid-way point in the season the Kings are clinging to the second wild card slot for the western conference.

Peter Budaj is a name that was virtually unknown to a lot of fans at the beginning of the season when he was called up from the Ontario Reign to back up Jeff Zatkoff. In reality Budaj has been around in the NHL for a surprising 12 seasons. His first NHL game was back in the 2005-06 season where he played for the Colorado Avalanche. Budaj's 100th NHL game was back in November of 2007 still with the Avalanche. His first playoff game came during the playoffs that same season in 2008 when he filled in for Jose Theodore in Colorado's 2nd round match up with the Detroit Red Wings.

The following 2008-09 season Budaj was the lead goaltender for Colorado, unfortunately that was a disastrous season for them and in 2009-10 he was back to being the back-up netminder this time to Craig Anderson. On April 1st 2011 Budaj became the 1st Slovakian goaltender in the NHL to make 100 wins!  That July he was picked up by the Montreal Canadians where he stayed until 2014.  In October of 2014 however he was traded to the Winnipeg Jets for Eric Tangradi. The Jets immediately sent Budaj to the St. John's Ice Caps, their AHL affiliate. There, he sank into further obscurity failing to win a single game in 19 attempts that 2014-15 season.

This is how Budaj came to the Kings organization. On August 28th 2015 he signed a try-out contract to attend the Los Angeles Kings training camp, and in October, he signed a one-year two-way contract with the Kings. He was almost immediately waived to the Reign, but this time, Budaj started to play impressively well and earned the starting goaltender spot with the Reign in the 2015-16 season. That season, he led the Reign to claim the Pacific Division title, led the league in the most statistical categories, and won the Baz Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL's best goaltender. As a result, his contract was renewed and he remained the starting goalie for the Reign until he was called up to the Kings following Quick's injury at the start of this season.

Even though Budaj certainly had plenty of NHL experience prior to the start of this season it is still surprising how well he has managed to handle the starting goalie responsibility that was so suddenly thrust upon him in October. The Kings over time win against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday marked Budaj's 20th win of the season! So far season to date Budaj has gone 20-11-3 in 37 games played.  His goals against average is 2.09 and he has a .917 save percentage, he also has 4 shootout wins this season. These stats actually give him an equal save percentage and a better goals against average than Martin Jones, and a better goals against average than Mike Smith with only a .001 worse save percentage.  Jones and Smith were recently selected to represent the Pacific Division as the goalies for the NHL All-Star Team. Clearly Budaj has proven that he deserves to play starting goalie in the NHL as his stats are equivalent to the best goalies in his division this season!  We look forward to Jonathan Quick being able to return to the ice, but Budaj has done the Kings proud and I look forward to seeing him continue to shine for Los Angeles through out the second half of the season, and with any luck into the playoffs as well.

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