Habs’ Budaj adjusts to smaller pads, new coach
Goaltender was also surprised to learn that nets has been shrunk
Canadiens George Parros, left, and goalie Peter Budaj watch a scrimmage at the end of a practice Friday in Brossard.
Photograph by: John Kenney, THE GAZETTE
MONTREAL — Canadiens goalie Peter Budaj somehow looked different on Brossard training-camp ice Friday morning. And after a moment or two, you could put your finger on it:
He was wearing blue hockey pants.
You wouldn’t have known that, from the front, in Budaj’s two previous seasons with the Canadiens, the netminder’s white Bauer pads rising to his hips where they were met by his jersey.
But the NHL has figuratively put goalie pads in the dryer this past off-season, shrinking them a few inches in length to open a little of the five-hole between netminders’ legs.
Both Budaj and teammate Carey Price, and goalies with 29 other NHL clubs, are using training camp to adjust to their reduced size in shallower nets, the 6x4-foot goals trimmed in depth to produce a little more playmaking space behind the cage.
“I’ve had them for a couple weeks now,” Budaj said of his shrunken pads. “They’re a little smaller, obviously, we lost a few inches. But you can adjust and adapt.
“They’re a little more compact. There’s a sacrifice in coverage, but you’ll make up for it with the speed you can move. You can move a little better. I don’t mind them. They’re not as bad as I thought they’d be.”
Budaj has simply followed the new rules without a ruler of his own. He couldn’t tell you precisely how much smaller his new pads are, or how many grams they’re lighter.
“I don’t think they really feel different,” he said. “You’re going to come across the net more compact. They kind of force you to move better, to work on your skating. There’ll be an adjustment period, but I think goalies will adjust well.”
The nets, their 44-inch depth reduced to 40 inches in June by the league’s competition committee, came as a bit of a surprise to the eight-year NHL veteran.
“I didn’t even know about it until two days ago when they told me,” Budaj said. “The puck will come back toward the net after hitting the boards much faster. The angles will be sharper and the play behind the net will be much, much quicker.
“There’ll be more jamming the net and more grabbing the net, especially from behind, with more scrums.”
If the NHL wants more offence, he suggested, it would be better to try to eliminate the neutral-zone-clogging trap.
“Sometimes I wish they’d make some teams play for a win and not play not to lose. That’s a big difference,” he said. “You’re sitting back and waiting for the opponent to make a mistake, not trying to create anything yourself.”
Budaj was an excellent 8-1-1 in his 13 regular-season starts last season, playing wonderfully when called upon to fill in for Price after long stretches on the bench. He lost his two decisions in the playoffs, the Canadiens bounced in five quarter-final games by Ottawa.
“We had a great group last year and it definitely was a disappointing and unsatisfying way to end the season, especially after the season we had,” he said, the Canadiens finishing second in the Eastern Conference after their plummet to dead last in the East, 28th in the NHL, in 2011-12.
“This year will be much harder. Two years ago, no one took us seriously because we finished last. But last year we surprised a lot of teams. There will be no surprises this year, every team will be ready for us.
“This year we have a lot of skilled guys, some sandpaper, checkers, scorers, grinders, goaltending. We’ll be prepared to show everybody that last year wasn’t a fluke.”
Budaj and Price will adjust not only to smaller pads and revised geometry of their nets, but also to incoming goaltending coach Stéphane Waite, a two-time Stanley Cup winner in Chicago.
The Canadiens goalies have had just limited work with Waite thus far, but the learning curve will be sharp as camp wears on.
“Stéphane keeps things really simple,” Budaj said. “He wants the goalies to feel comfortable. He’s not trying to change anybody to a certain style, but trying to improve what you’ve got and keep you confident with what you’re doing.
“It’s very important that, no matter what style you have, you’ll feel comfortable with it.
“Stéphane is a very good coach, obviously, the success he’s had with Chicago. We’ve had some good goalie sessions. He seems like a very nice guy and knows what he’s doing. I’m looking forward to working with him.
“He’s told us he’ll be honest,” Budaj said of Waite’s early discussions with himself and Price. “If he doesn’t like something, he’ll tell us and work on it. He’s not going to pamper us.”
It’s possible that both Canadiens goalies will compete in the Sochi Olympics, neither enjoying the benefit of a two-week break in February to recharge for the stretch run.
Price is a strong candidate for Canada, while Budaj is in the running to play for Slovakia, in a pool with Jaroslav Halak, the former Canadien and current St. Louis Blues’ netminder, and Rastislav Stana and Jaroslav Janus.
“Hopefully, I’ll be healthy and playing well for Montreal,” Budaj said. “Right now, I don’t even want to think about Olympics.”
Nor is the native of Banska Bystrica, who turns 31 next Wednesday, giving a moment’s thought to his long-term future, which was extended in Montreal last April with a two-year, $2.8-million contract.
“It’s a cliché, but you prepare every game, every day, like it’s your last,” said Budaj, speaking a personal philosophy that he practices well beyond hockey.
“Right now, training camp is a fun time. We can tweak little things that we can to get better to be ready for the regular season and be the best we can right out of the gate.
“The present is a gift,” he said. “You have to focus on today, on how you work, prepare, and what you’ll do. What’s going to happen two, three, four weeks from now, even four days from now, is out of our hands.
“Sometimes, people get caught up with what might happen. We just don’t know that. Assumptions sometimes cloud our vision.”
Embracing that philosophy, Budaj has a view that’s crystal-clear. And he has proven his worth to the Canadiens in the unforgiving job of forever having to be in mid-season, game-sharp form, no matter that he might have been warming the bench for many games in a row.
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