After missing the last nine games with a knee injury sustained during warm-ups in a game against the Vancouver Canucks on October 26, Colorado Avalanche goaltender Craig Anderson will return to the lineup tonight against the New York Rangers.
However, will his role be different?
Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco has enough confidence in Anderson to start him in his first game since returning, but Peter Budaj's strong play en route to a 7-3-1 record must be in the back of Sacco's mind.
For now, Anderson is the starter. He more than earned it with his play last season, and a hot streak by Peter Budaj isn't enough to take that title away from him.
However, last year Anderson started a franchise record 71 games, and his play tailed off towards the end of the season. So much so that the Avalanche fell from sixth place to eighth place, clinching the final Western Conference playoff spot the last week of the season.
If the Avalanche are going to be successful again, that has to change.
Only a month and change into the 2010-2011 season, Peter Budaj has already started the same amount of games (11) as he did in 2009-2010. And more importantly, he's played well; even better than Anderson before the knee injury.
At the very least, Budaj needs to start around 25 to 30 games this season. He's earned it with his play, and it's to the benefit of the team that Anderson doesn't overwork himself again.
It must know be noted that Anderson had a rough start to the season before the injury, going 3-4-0 with a GAA north of 3.00.
If those struggles continue further into the season, Sacco can't be reluctant to allow Budaj to carry the load. The Avalanche have equally as little invested in each goalie; they're both around the same age, similar salary, and neither is signed next season.
It's an unlikely scenario that Anderson isn't able to elevate his play back to it's usual level, but if he can't, the Avalanche must go with the hot hand.