December 2 - We're Going Streaking!
Iron Horse Peter Budaj
In the National Hockey League, it used to be a common occurrence to play in goal for a large number of consecutive games. Teams had one goaltender on their roster at a time (for the most part), and it was seen as normal for that goaltender to play every minute of every game unless injured or the club had a better option cooling their heels in the minors. For the longest time, Georges Vezina held the league's consecutive regular-season games played mark with 328, until Glenn Hall broke the mark on January 27, 1960 in a 2-1 loss to Toronto. Ultimately, Hall ran his streak to 502 consecutive regular season games played (552 including playoffs), with Denis DeJordy spelling Hall in the first period of Chicago's 3-3 tie against Boston on November 7, 1962, then starting in a 3-1 win at Montreal three nights later. Boston's Eddie Johnston became the last NHL goaltender to play every minute of every game in a team's season (in 1963-64), and the next season, Detroit's Roger Crozier played in all of his team's games (with Carl Wetzel relieving him twice).
Since the advent of the two-goalie system, NHL coaches have come to realize that a rested "backup" goaltender is often a better bet to play well than a tired "starter", and the consecutive games streaks have largely gone by the wayside. In 1995-96, Mike Keenan started workhorse Grant Fuhr for the first 76 St. Louis Blues' games of the season, and it's believed that Keenan intended to start Fuhr in every game that year. However, Fuhr injured his knee in a March 31 loss at Detroit, and Jon Casey got the call - and again when Fuhr was injured in the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs (Casey is most visible in the highlights of the Blues-Red Wings Game Seven on Steve Yzerman's double-overtime goal, the only goal of the game).
So here we are this year. Peter Budaj, who started the 2016-17 season with the American Hockey League's Ontario Reign, just played in his twenty-second consecutive National Hockey League game for the Los Angeles Kings, thanks to an injury to Jonathan Quick and the Kings' coach Darry Sutter's reluctance to use Jeff Zatkoff. It's possible that Budaj is wearing down from the workload, with Zatkoff coming in last night and pulling out a win over Arizona, and Zatkoff may get the call against Montreal Sunday.
Who was the last goaltender to start 22 consecutive games (or more)? If you count playoffs, and span season boundaries, the answer isn't very interesting - Minnesota's Devan Dubnyk played the final fourteen regular season games of 2015-16 with the Wild, all six of their playoff series with Dallas, and the first two games this season - also for a streak of 22, but San Jose's Martin Jones did him seven better (ending on October 17 when Aaron Dell started the following night for the Sharks.
So including playoffs isn't that interesting - if a team (such as the Sharks) has a long run in the playoffs, and rides one goaltender the entire way, it's an easy way to generate a long streak. How about regular season only streaks (such as Budaj's)?
In 2015-16, there were no streaks of 22 or longer.
In 2014-15, Anaheim's Frederik Andersen appeared in 23 consecutive games, while Colorado's Semyon Varlamov hit 22. However, you're probably thinking of the big streak in that time - the Minnesota Wild acquired Dubnyk on January 14 from Arizona, and they decided to try him out - to the tune of 38 consecutive regular season games. The streak ended just before the playoffs (with Darcy Kuemper helping Dubnyk to get some much-needed rest), although Dubnyk still sputtered a bit in the 2015 playoffs (and rumors persisted that he was fatigued). Nevertheless, Dubnyk helped to turn around a struggling Minnesota season, and finished third in 2014-2015 Vezina Trophy balloting. Braden Holtby also deserves mention, with separate streaks of 27 games and 25 games in the 2014-15 campaign (the second streak stretches to 31 regular season games if you consider the following fall).
So Budaj's streak of 22 isn't particularly notable for its length - even in modern times - although it's certainly notable given where he started the year (and a tremendous interest story for a man that many thought was out of the league for good). And there's the potential for Budaj's streak to continue, since Sutter has some sort of fear to use Zatkoff - when Zatkoff replaced Budaj after a poor start on November 11, Budaj was back in the nets two nights later. As a fan of Budaj's from his Colorado days, I'm certainly rooting for him.