Peter Budaj has been really good lately (sorry for the lack of a spoiler warning). After starting 0-3, Budaj is 6-4 with a shutout. You may not have noticed, but he has better numbers than a certain someone, but this isn't about comparing him to other players. It's about comparing him to...him.
One of Budaj's major stengths last year was that he was a very good first period goalie - his .914 save percentage in the first period gave the Avs a chance to get the early lead. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to sustain that good start and his save percentage dropped as the game went on:
- 1st: .914
- 2nd: .909
- 3rd: .898
- OT: .667 (ouch)
This season started in a similar fashion, with Budaj putting up a dismal .792 save percentage (16-77) in his first 12 games, giving up at least one 3rd period goal in all but 3 of those games. The lowest of the low came on November 3rd against Chicago when the entire team stopped and Budaj allowed 4 4th period goals. In the 4 games since, Budaj has been perfect in the 3rd (and OT), stopping all 40 shots he's faced. His 3rd period save percentage is still poor (.861), but it's climbing. I don't know if it's a matter of conditioning, mental focus or the play of the defense in front, but this trend will absolutely need to continue.
Budaj's other big shortcoming last year was his perfmance against the powerplay. He allowed 27 PP goals, just 2 less than Theodore despite playing significantly less often (188 SH minutes to 300 for Theodore). Once again, the early trend was more of the same, with 7 PP goals scored against Budaj in his first 5 games. He's improved substantially since, though, allowing just 3 in his last 9 games.
He also has 3 shootout victories (besting Ryan Miller, Roberto Loungo and, filling the role of one of these things that's not like the others, Dwayne Roloson). Those 3 shootout wins ties him with Carey Price and Dany Sabourin (seriously?) for tops in the NHL. One more shootout win and he matches his total for the previous two years combined. In '06 -'07 and '07-'08, Budaj was 44th and 50th respectively in SO save percentage. This year, he's 18th with a respectable .692 save percentage.
Peter Budaj is playing terrific hockey. The fact that he's improved so much in some areas he's traditionally struggled is encouraging...but could also be a an area of concern. Has he really turned the corner or is he just riding a hot streak? I believe in Budaj, but I personally tend to believe the answer is somewhere in the middle.