With the Avalanche off until Friday, it seems as good a time as any to release my midseason report cards. To start things off, let's look at the team's Best Penalty Killers™ - the goalies.
This was going to be Jose Theodore's triumphant return. After stumbling badly last year under the withering glare of the Montreal media, Theo seemed relieved to be breathing in some of the friendlier Rocky Mountain air. After improving his play as the playoffs went on (not long enough for my tastes, of course) and after a rumored dalliance with mega-skank and notorious non-swallower Paris Hilton was virtually ignored in Denver, this seemed to have all the makings of a match made in heaven: we get a guy who can carry a young, developing team and he gets to play without being under constant pressure (oh, and he gets 5 million smackers).Yeah, so that didn't work out so well. Five games into the season and Martin LaPointe is blowing shots past him from the blueline. Less than a week after that, and he's giving up 8 to his old team in Montreal. So far, Jose has shown very few signs of regaining his old Hart & Vezina form - in 74 games since the lockout, he has a GAA of 3.27 and a Save Percentage of .890.
So far this year, Theo has been unable to put up any sort of solid streak together. He's managed two separate 3 game winning streaks...and capped both up with a 5 goal catastrophe. His 3.10 GAA ranks him 32nd among 39 eligible goaltenders, and 29th in Save Percentage. His GAA while the Avs are shorthanded is an abominable 8.90. His GAA with the lead? 4.29. Still wonder why the Avs are blowing so many leads? He's even managed to turn the, um, less-crazed Avalanche fans into Montreal-like basketcases - Theodore received a rough reception from the Pepsi Center crowd while getting pulled in his most recent letdown.
At this point, no one is expecting Jose Theodore to regain his old form. At best, he's half of a goalie platoon, inching closer every game to backup status. But hey, at least he looks great in a baseball cap. Grade: C-
Enter Plan B. Very quietly, and perhaps unexpectedly, Peter Budaj has blossomed into a solid NHL goaltender. TSN's scouting report has Budaj as an acrobatic goalie who needs work on his positioning. I'm no scout, but I would respectfully submit that they have it completely backward. All season long, Budaj has relied on positioning over reflexes - and it's worked well for him. Budaj has simply been better than his counterpart - his Save Percentage is a modest 21st in the league, but his GAA is a rock-solid 14th (right ahead of Ryan Miller). His GAA against the other teams' powerplay is 6.16, substantially better than Theo's 8.90. Perhaps most significantly, his GAA with the lead is 2.10. If there's one thing Colorado needs right now, it's a goalie who can hold a lead. Please.
We're now 54 games into Budaj's NHL career, and more and more he's looking like a starting goalie instead of a backup. His stats are solid (2.73 career GAA, 3 shutouts). But the most impressive quality Budaj possesses seems to be his composure. He looks comfortable back there at all times, and, that confidence seems to spread to the rest of the team: Colorado gives up 4 less shots per game with Budaj in net, while scoring about a half goal a game more. I know that I am infinitely more confident in our chances when #31 is in net...and I firmly believe that you can see that same extra faith from the team.
So far, Budaj doesn't seem like the type of goalie who is going to steal too many games (something Theo can do when he's "on"), which is certainly a quality you'd love to have come playoff time. But, he isn't losing games that he should be winning. In many ways on the ice (and possibly off the ice as well), Budaj is the opposite of Theodore - not flashy, but steady. And getting better as the season goes on. Grade: B+
*this article originally appeared at inthecheapseats.com*