Craig Anderson wasn’t perfect in his return to action, but he was pretty close.
After being sidelined for three and a half weeks due to a knee injury, Anderson made 25 stops in his first game back, allowing only a Derek Stepan goal in the third period as the Avalanche cruised to a 5-1 win Friday night over the New York Rangers.
As it turned out, Anderson didn’t need much offensive support in this one.
Still, Colorado’s high-powered offense (fourth in the league averaging 3.44 goals-per-game heading into tonight) erupted for four tallies during the second period, chasing New York Rangers’ starting netminder Henrik Lundqvist.
Not only did the Avs put forth a stellar effort in the offensive end, they also played a solid all-around game in their defensive zone. Anderson faced nine shots in each of the first two periods and eight in the final frame, with many of those attempts coming from the outside.
“It feels good; it feels good to get the W,” said Anderson. “Anytime you can give up thirty or less shots, guys are doing something right.”
In the final steps of his road to receovery, Anderson went through an hour-long practice on Thursday while the majority of his teammates had the day off. After doing so, Anderson felt confident that his knee was healed sufficiently enough for a return. From there, it was a matter of getting the green light from the Avalanche’s staff.
“We had a good practice yesterday. I was out on the ice for a good hour and went through all the possible movements you’d see in a game,” Anderson said following Friday’s morning skate. “I had no issues and felt good enough to be cleared to play. It was up to the coaching staff to make that decision; they made the call. My job is to go out there and stop the puck.”
After starting seven of the Avalanche’s first eight games, the Park Ridge, Ill., native suffered the knee injury during warmups prior to Colorado’s Oct. 26 contest at Vancouver. Anderson said this morning that he was looking to keep things simple in his return.
“Sometimes when you try to come back from injury or you’re out of the lineup, when you get back into the lineup you try to do too much.”
He obviously found that perfect balance on Friday night. Showing no rust whatsoever following his layoff, Anderson made several nice saves – none more spectacular than his sliding stop on Alex Frolov with 7:20 remaining in the opening frame and the Rangers on a power play.
“I think timing wasn’t issue. I think it was more of getting back out there and getting into rhythm,” Anderson said of his performance. “The guys out there allowed me to see the puck tonight and any rebounds I left they were there to clean them up. Hannan made a dive there to stop the break away. Guys were out there paying the price or doing what it takes to win and that’s a treat to see.
During Anderson’s absence, Peter Budaj did a more than admirable job of holding down the fort in Colorado’s goal. Budaj started each of the 10 games while Anderson was injured, marking the first time he had started 10 or more consecutive games since Nov. 2-28, 2008 (when he 12 started straight). You wouldn’t have guessed it had been that long based on his performance, as Budaj posted a 6-3-1 mark, including a 31-save shutout on Nov. 6 vs. Dallas, during that span.
Coupling Anderson’s return to the lineup with Budaj’s strong play over the past three-plus weeks, it simply reaffirms just how well-positioned the Avalanche is in net.