Canadiens’ goaltender Peter Budaj tosses a puck to fans following a Canadiens’ shutout win against the Hurricanes.
Photograph by: Graham Hughes, The Canadian Press
MONTREAL — Canadiens coach Michel Therrien and general manager Marc Bergevin each demonstrated his confidence in backup goaltender Peter Budaj on Wednesday.
Shortly after Therrien announced Budaj would start against the Buffalo Sabres Thursday night (7:30 p.m., CBC, RDS, TSN Radio 690), the Canadiens announced that the 30-year-old Budaj has signed a two-year contract extension. While terms of the deal were not announced, Budaj will receive $2.8 million over two seasons, a bump from his $1.2-million salary this season.
Budaj goes into the Buffalo game with a six-game winning streak. He has a 6-1-1 record and his appearance in Buffalo will mark the first time this season he has started a game that isn’t part of a back-to-back series.
The right set of circumstances could allow the Canadiens to wrap up a playoff spot with a win Thursday, but it won’t be easy because the Sabres are battling to stay alive in the playoff race and have won three of their four previous meetings against Montreal this season.
Therrien did a bit of juggling with his lineup Wednesday and said he was seeking to create some balance.
“It’s not a question of the (four lines) being capable to score, it’s their responsibility to score,” said Therrien, who added his responsibility is to recognize which lines are contributing the most on any given night.
The line he didn’t touch is the Max Pacioretty-David Desharnais-Brendan Gallagher trio. The three are among 10 Canadien players who have 20 or more points this season, but Therrien admitted Wednesday that he’s looking for more production from the line, which has produced only five goals over the past 10 games.
Therrien said he was happy with Pacioretty’s play against Washington when the forward had five shots on goal, while another seven were blocked.
“(That line) had some chances yesterday, but they didn’t produce,” Therrien said. “I liked Pacioretty’s game last night. He was battling, he was playing well, and if he keeps playing like this I know the results will be there.”
But when pressed on Desharnais’s play, Therrien admitted: “I wish that they could produce more, the entire line. I know they care. They’re an important part of the team. They have to stick to the plan.”
Therrien dismissed a suggestion defences were paying extra attention to Desharnais and Pacioretty because of their success last season.
“I don’t think so because teams knew last year that they were hottest line on this team and teams were prepared for them,” the coach said.
Rene Bourque, who missed 21 games with a concussion, started Tuesday’s game against Washington on the fourth line, but finished on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta. That unit will remain intact.
“Rene Bourque was a big part of that line’s success before he got hurt,” Therrien said.
The plan was to ease Bourque back into the lineup slowly, but he looked ready for an expanded role after playing 11:35 against the Capitals. He had four shots on goal and delivered six hits.
“I’ve been pushing myself to get ready, but it’s obviously nice to come back and make sure you’re 100 per cent before you play,” Bourque said. “My head felt good, but this was worse than my first concussion when I was back in a week.”
Michael Ryder joins Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk, who have been playing well over the past week. Eller scored both goals in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss, while Galchenyuk is on a four-game point streak. Ryder provides a shooter for two natural centres who aren’t always looking for the shot.
Therrien also tweaked his defensive pairings. Francis Bouillon will join Andrei Markov in the top four, while the third pair will be newcomer Davis Drewiske and rookie Nathan Beaulieu. The changes mean the top four can expect to see more ice time.
The target for the third pair will be about 12 minutes of ice time with Drewiske getting some extra time as a penalty-killer and Beaulieu seeing action on the power play.
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