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Craig Anderson is back and the Colorado Avalanche are still standing. In fact, they thrived during his three-week absence, which speaks volumes about a young team that showed its worth during what could have been a devastating injury to last season's team MVP.
"We responded well as a group with Craig not being there," Avs coach Joe Sacco told ESPN.com on Friday. "You don't want to single too many people out, but Peter Budaj obviously stepped into a situation and did a real good job for us. He was solid every game, gave us a chance to win, and really what else can you ask from your goaltender?"
Starting every game in Anderson's absence, Budaj went 6-3-1 and gave the Avs reliable goaltending and helped save what could have been a disastrous situation in the tough Western Conference.
"The reason why he was able to do that, to me, was his preparation," Sacco said of Budaj. "He's a guy that works extremely hard, all the time, in practice. He works hard off the ice. When the opportunity came, he was ready because of all the work he put into it. He filled in really nice and did a real good job for us."
Budaj also gave Sacco the confidence in knowing the coach can go back to him more often this season than he did in 2009-10. Budaj appeared in only 15 games last season as the red-hot Anderson put on a clinic in a Vezina-worthy season.
"I've said all along that we have two very capable goaltenders," said Sacco, who gave Anderson the start Friday night. "I know that last year Peter didn't play as much as he probably would have liked. That's just kind of how the situation worked out. It wasn't that I didn't have confidence in Peter, it was just that I thought Craig was playing so well that we were going to ride him. But going into this season, as a plan, I wanted to use Peter more, especially on back-to-back nights. I will use Peter more this year, there's no question. It will only benefit Craig to get some rest for the stretch."
While Budaj was key in helping Colorado survive in Anderson's absence, Sacco also credited the play of the rest of the team. We know this: the Avs can score goals by the bushel (they entered the weekend ranked fourth in the NHL in offense), which was a factor during the team's run without Anderson.
"We are a team that plays an aggressive, up-tempo style," said Sacco. "We've been fortunate to have scored a lot of goals and we get a lot of scoring opportunities. We talk about being a team that needs to be a little bit stingier defensively."
Like last season, defense remains an issue -- Colorado entered the weekend ranked 22nd in the league in goals against.
"But what I do is I look at our team now compared to where it was last year. Our shots against are down, our shots for are up and, in turn, our scoring chances against are down and our scoring chances for are up," said Sacco. "So those are all positive signs. We're certainly headed in the right direction."
The Avs were 29th in the league in shots for last season, but are way up to 11th entering the weekend. They're 21st in shots against compared to 25th last season. The killer right now is the penalty kill: 28th in the league entering the weekend.
"The goals against, it's been mostly because of our penalty killing. It's given up 18 goals," said Sacco. "So 5-on-5, we've been a real good team; the power play's been pretty good, but penalty killing needs to pick up."