Seasons can turn on the smallest of developments and the Colorado Avalanche have arrived at just that sort of crossroads early on, after learning that starting goaltender Craig Anderson will be out indefinitely with a knee injury. Maybe you saw the replay - and how quirky these injuries can sometimes be. Anderson was dressing as the back-up to Peter Budaj for Colorado's game against the Vancouver Canucks the other night.
Budaj had already completed his warm-up; Anderson was in there, just fooling around with his teammates, on his knees in the goal crease when he twisted the wrong way. Seconds later, he was limping off the ice in pain - and apart from the fact that the Avalanche say he will not require surgery, little is known about the extent of the injury, only that he is out indefinitely. Ominous.
So Budaj in effect becomes the starter again, a year after he lost the job to Anderson, who was signed as an unrestricted free agent and was the single biggest reason a 69-point Colorado team from the year before managed to get all the way to 95 and make the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Anderson produced 38 of the Avalanche's 43 victories; Budaj just five in 15 appearances.
However, the interesting stat there is that their respective goals-against averages (2.64) and save percentages (.917) were absolutely identical. There's a little-known fact for you that is weirdly heartening to the Avalanche, who were only a middle-of-the-pack team defensively last year and right now, are hovering near the bottom of the goalie standings alongside New Jersey, Anaheim and Atlanta.
What makes Colorado so fun to watch is its offence - Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, Chris Stewart, Milan Hedjuk and defenceman John-Michael Liles are all off to good scoring starts. It means Budaj is likely to get more scoring support than he did the last time he was the team's starter - in '08-09. And as recently as the 06-07 season, Budaj won 31 games for Colorado. If coach Joe Sacco is correct and Budaj can play at that level again, then the Avs should be able to stay in the playoff race until Anderson's return. If he falters, then it'll be John Grahame's turn - the veteran back-up is back in North America after an unhappy KHL experience and got the call from the Avs' minor-league affiliate after Anderson went down.
Anderson faced 2,233 shots last year, most in the league, and was constantly bailing out a young and aggressive Colorado team. With him out of action here, the Avs will get a clearer understanding of just how they've come defensively - and how much Anderson's goaltending may have masked any deficiencies in that department. We will soon discover the answers, maybe even as early as tonight against Calgary.