No sooner does InGoal Magazine debut the Friday the 13th-themed mask of Colorado third-stringer Jason Bacashihua as a Halloween theme, then the Avalanche will probably need to recall him (or his AHL playing partner, John Grahame) from Lake Erie after a potentially horrific injury to No.1 Craig Anderson.
Anderson appeared to suffer a serious knee injury in the late stages of the pre-game warmup prior to Tuesday’s game in Vancouver. Already scheduled to back up Peter Budaj against the Canucks, Anderson was laughing and joking as the final drill started: An in-tight scramble always reserved for the backup, with the entire team trying to stuff the puck in to signify the end or the session.
The jokes ended as Anderson leaned against his right post on his knees and tried to simultaneously push off (from the post with his pad, not with a skate edge) and reach over to his left. He immediately rolled onto his back on the ice and grabbed his right knee, then got up and skated off the ice, requiring assistance to get to the locker room – and never returned to the bench for the game.
Coach Joe Sacco confirmed after the game Anderson would return to Denver to be re-evaluated by team doctors instead of accompanying the team on a flight to Calgary for a game Thursday.
“We’ll know more [Wednesday],” said Sacco.
(Wednesday afternoon update: reports indicate Anderson doesn’t require surgery, but no timeline was given for his expected absence and Grahame was called up from the AHL).
Losing Anderson for a long stretch would be a blow. The 29-year-old was just 3-4-0 with a .907 save percentage and 3.15 goals against to start this season, numbers skewed by a 6-4 loss to Los Angeles his last start. But Anderson was a huge – many would argue the biggest – part of Colorado’s surprise run to the playoffs last year, setting franchise records for games (71), minutes (2.233) and saves (2,047) while going 38-25-7 in his first season with the Avs.
But if success really is defined as preparation meeting opportunity, Colorado can count on Budaj in the meantime. That’s because few, if any, backups in the NHL work harder in practice to perfect and maintain their technique than the 28-year-old Slovakian stopper.
“It’s unfortunate Andy got hurt in warm up but Buds is an unbelievably talented goalie, very athletic,” said sophomore scoring sensation Matt Duchene. “Might be the most athletic guy on the team, and we know he can carry us if need be.”
Budaj did just that before Anderson’s – and Duchene’s – arrival last season.
The likeable backup played 57 games in 2006-07 and 56 just two seasons ago — and appeared in over 30 each of the two seasons before those. But after Anderson’s sizzling start last season, Budaj didn’t play his second game until mid-November, though he did still finish the season 5-5-2 with a .917 save percentage.
This year he’s already played two games, and there appear to be lots more coming fast.
“I’d like to be in and it looks like I’m going to be so just be ready and see what happens and help the team get some wins,” Budaj said after making 26 saves before losing 4-3 on an unlucky bounce just 28 seconds into overtime Tuesday.
With Budaj and Bacashihua in goal (assuming it’s not Grahame, who has more NHL experience), Avalanche fans can expect to see an exciting style between the pipes. Both rely more on athleticism and foot speed than Anderson, whose success is based more on positioning and a sound technical approach to arriving in those spaces early, set and square. That’s the goal for Budaj too, one he works tirelessly to perfect both before and during the NHL season. But he’s also not afraid to abandon it when necessary.
“I’m butterfly goaltender, but I try to be a little acrobatic at times and use my athleticism,” Budaj once told InGoal when asked to describe his style. “I like to have a good foundation. You try to do everything by the book, but sometimes you can’t, so you’ve got to flop and lunge and do whatever you can to stop the puck. Thank God I’m pretty flexible. I liked action movies so when I was a kid so I tried to be like Jean-Claude Van Damme.”