Budaj's the guy

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

Goaltending was the biggest question mark heading into the season for the Colorado Avalanche.

Specifically, whether it would be any good.

Peter Budaj was given the reins of the club at the start of the year and struggled with his consistency.

For every great save the Slovakian would make, he would seem to give up a bad goal.

But the Avalanche stuck with their first pick -- 63rd overall -- in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, and heading into last night's contest against the Edmonton Oilers, it's starting to pay off.

"He was a little bit inconsistent through the first 12 or 13 games," admitted Avalanche head coach Tony Granato.

"He's going into a new role. It's difficult when you're the starting guy, the new guy, you think about it all summer, then you go through training camp and have to prove yourself.

"The game in Vancouver, where he made four or five spectacular saves when it was on the line, was a game where you could say he was outstanding.

"It looks like he's gaining confidence and he's settling into the role, it's not so new any more, and he's learning by experience."

Prior to the game against the Oilers, Budaj had amassed a 5-7-0 record with a 2.91 goals against average and .893 save percentage.

OUTDUELLED LUONGO

On Wednesday, he outduelled Roberto Luongo, making 32 saves in a 2-1 shootout win.

Included in that was an incredible save on Henrik Sedin, sprawling across to deny the Canucks forward of what looked sure goal on the power play.

The save was so good, teammate Ian Laperriere went racing to his goaltender after the play to congratulate him.

"He was screaming at me because I had made a block on the play before and he yelled at me 'Great block, Lappy,' " Laperriere said. "So after he made that save, I was like 'Are you kidding me, that was a great block!' That's all I said to him."

The save lifted the Avalanche in the contest, who were being outplayed by the Canucks to that point.

Budaj then went on to stop all three Canucks in the shootout.

"He's playing well for us and if there is one guy who deserves that, it's him," Laperriere said.

"The way he works in practice and the way he takes care of himself, it's all credit to him.

WORK ETHIC

"With that work ethic, he was going to put fortune on his side. That's what he's done.

"He's playing great lately, but he's not the type of guy that's just going to be satisfied with that, he'll keep working hard to keep trying to improve.

"To be honest, we're all going to have bad games throughout the year, but the way he works and the preparation he puts into a game, he's going to have more good games than bad games."

Budaj, 26, is in his fourth year with the Avalanche.

He split the goaltending duties last season with Jose Theodore, finishing with a 16-10-4 record, a 2.57 goals against average and .903 save percentage.

Theodore left to sign with the Washington Capitals, leaving the starting job to Budaj.

Based on his recent outings, the Avalanche are rapidly gaining more in confidence in their goaltender's abilities.

Earlier this season they were outplaying opponents only to have a soft goal along the way cost them games.

"It gives us a lot of confidence," said Laperriere.

"You look around the league and all the teams have great goalies that are doing the job. You can't go anywhere without a goalie."


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