Easily Budaj's best game of the year last night as the Avs beat the Canuckleheads 2-1 in a shootout. Sure, I can hear the cynics: "Budaj's best game isn't saying much - it's like bragging about being the tallest dwarf," but he really did play a fantastic game. The only goal he allowed was the (BS) penalty shot in a first period that the Avs dominated. Yes, to be an elite NHL goaltender, Budaj needs to put up these types of games more often. But all Avs fans should be happy with that performance from Budaj and the rest of the team.
As mentioned above, the Avs dominated the first period but couldn't get anything past Luongo, who also played a great game. The 2nd period was more in the Canucks favor and Budaj stepped up his play. 3rd period was pretty even, but Budaj was huge in killing off the two penalties in the latter half of the period. The Avs generated a good number of scoring chances - good news considering Sakic's absence.
The penalty shot was BS. Why? Because Pyatt was not fouled from behind. He was pretty clearly fouled from the side. Being fouled from behind is one of the requirements for awarding a penalty shot, and Pyatt wasn't. It's really that simple. Good for the Avs that it didn't cost them a point, but it probably gave the Canucks one.
The lines were interesting due to two of the centers being out - Sakic and Guite. McCormick was back from his grandmother's funeral (condolences, and thanks for the info AaronNeville'sMole), so nobody had to be called up but nobody was a healthy scratch either. And good thing because I speculated after Svatos' miniscule ice time last game that he might be in line for a trip to the press box. He responded to his benching by scoring the Avs' only goal in regulation (yes, the official scoring has changed) and then putting home the winning shootout goal directly underneath crossbar. Nice game for him although he still only got 8:22 of ice time. In fact that whole line - centered by Arnason with McLeod on the wing - didn't get much time at all. The three forwards averaged about 8 minutes.
And speaking of time in the press box, I was not impressed with Arnason's response to his time there. He was basically invisible out there. At some point one worries that he is a bad influence on the young Svatos. Hopefully that's not the case, but Arnie did not look very interested. He'd better get with it or else it will be an easy decision to scratch him when Guite and Sakic return.
Again the 4th line was fantastic, and Granato rewarded their past performance by starting them. Lappy moved to center and although he wasn't very good at the dot (2 for 8), he was very good positionally. Tucker fit right in and played well. I wonder if this isn't a more appropriate role for Tucker on this team anyways. They got about 11 minutes of time.
The other interesting bit is that the Smyth-Stastny-Hejduk line was broken up. Granato had Smyth-Stastny-Jones together and Wolski-Hensick-Hejduk as a unit. I thought they looked okay. Stastny and Smith work well together and Hensick and Hejduk had some chemistry. It will be interesting to see what Granato whips up in Edmonton.
Behind Budaj's performance, the best thing about this game was the Avs penalty killing. PK and goalie performance definitely go hand in hand, but the Avs looked more confident on their PK save for two sequences where they allowed 2 on 1s to develop down low. On the first, one of the Sedins dangled Budaj but fortunately whiffed on the money shot. The second one was stifled by Budaj's signature save of the game. So yes the PK was better but the old saw of the goalie being your best penalty killer was also evident.
Should also mention that Hensick again looked great. His speed allowed him and his linemates several scoring opportunities in transition. He better not be going anywhere when Sakic and Guite come back. The Avs would be crazy to send him back down. Get him on the 3rd line with Svatos and watch Svatos start getting open looks at the cage.
Another big NW road game on Saturday in Edmonton. Looking forward, as always, to the great coverage of HNIC. Should be a fun one. According to my calculations, the Avs should win their next three (at least) before starting the next losing streak.