Peter Budaj has been a backup goaltender for more than a decade.
He's used to it, comfortable with the role and how it works.
But with Lightning No. 1 Andrei Vasilevskiy getting a lion's share of the starts, Budaj can sometimes go a couple weeks between games.
That's why it's important to get Budaj some action, like in tonight's game against the Avalanche at Amalie Arena. It's just Budaj's fifth game of the season, with Vasilevskiy starting the other 23.
"It's the job of the backup," coach Jon Cooper said. "You're there when your name is called, give the team a chance to win. And when you're not in, you just work, stay engaged and help your partner.
"I think there's been nobody better in the league that's done it in the last 10-15 years than Peter Budaj."
After Budaj signed a two-year deal over the summer, goalie coach Frantz Jean said they hoped to get him 20-25 starts over the season. Jean said his philosophy is playing the backup one ever four games.
But the Lightning gave Vasilevskiy a good chunk of the starts early on so that he knew it was his net, his first full season as No. 1. Budaj, who hasn't started in 12 days, has given up four goals or more in three of his four starts (though the Penguins game included two 5-on-3 power play goals and a short-handed breakaway).
Cooper said the team has a particular number of games they'd like each goalie to start, but there has to be wiggle-room based on circumstances.
"Sometimes you have to ride the wave of how some guys are playing, ride the way your team is playing," Cooper said. "You look at maybe a round number like, 'I'd like to get this goalie this many,' and you try to stick to it."
With the Lightning's lack of shot volume an issue on its latest road trip, the team has been more aggressive since returning home. Tampa Bay had 43 shots in Saturday's win over San Jose, and 34 in Tuesday's win over the Islanders. The Lightning had just 21 in a loss to Boston.
"Especially the way the game is played and defended now, you can sit in the offensive zone, but if you're not going to shoot the puck, what good is that?" Cooper said. "You have to create scrambles, we're a big believer in that. When you start to have success with that, it becomes contagious. Guys are seeing its working, so they're more apt to do it."
The Lightning is expected to go with the same lineup as Tuesday, other than Budaj in net. Cory Conacher will play in his third straight game, with J.T. Brown a healthy scratch… D Jake Dotchin (undisclosed) shed the red non-contact jersey but is still not ready, and will miss his eighth straight game. D Braydon Coburn (undisclosed) still hasn't skated with the team but has not suffered a setback, Cooper said. "He's plugging away," Cooper said. "Some of these injuries you just have to wait."