With starting goalie Jonathan Quick sidelined since the season opener the Los Angeles Kings have had to rely on Peter Budaj, a player that started the season as their No. 3 goalie on the organizational depth chart to take over the starting job.
At this point it would be quite an understatement to say that he has exceeded expectations.
His 17-save performance in a 1-0 overtime win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon was not only his third shutout in the past four games, but it was also his league-leading seventh shutout of the season. Washington’s Braden Holtby (six) is the only other goalie in the league that currently has more than five.
Along with giving him sole possession of first place on the NHL’s shutout leaderboard, it also improved his save percentage to .923 for the season and lifted the Kings to their fifth win in a row.
For as much of a surprise as Budaj has been this season filling in for Quick, it is another reminder that the biggest factor in the Kings’ success over the past few years has been a collective defensive effort that shuts down opposing offenses better than any other team in the league. Since the start of the 2011-12 season no team has allowed fewer shots on goal than the Kings, while they have never finished worse than fifth in a single season. Over the past five years they have never finished lower than third and are leading the league in terms of shot suppression this season. They have been, quite simply, the most dominant defensive team in the league for six years now.
That was especially true on Saturday when they completely shut down a Flyers team that once again sat two of its best young players, Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny, as healthy scratches, limiting them to just 17 shots on goal and only 44 total shot attempts.
Had it not been for a spectacular showing by Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth in net they likely would not have needed overtime to pick up the two points.
It was during that overtime that Jeff Carter continued his magnificent season for the Kings and scored his 27th goal of the season to beat his former team.
With that goal he is now just one goal behind Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby for the league lead.