Craig Anderson trying to earn opportunity

DENVER -- For a long time, you couldn't talk about the renaissance going on in Denver with the Avalanche without talking -- and in reverential tones at that -- about netminder Craig Anderson.

The journeyman netminder came to Denver and stole the starting job at the start of last season from Peter Budaj, and then helped the Avs bolt out of the gate and into the playoffs.

He set a franchise record for games started, minutes played, shots faced and saves made. He had seven shutouts, and his 38 wins were just two off the franchise record set by a guy named Patrick Roy.

But that was then. The "now" part of that equation is significantly less flattering as the 2010-11 season heads into its final third.

Anderson has been beset by groin and knee injuries and has struggled to find that groove. And, so have the Avs, who are last in the NHL in goals allowed per game.

Anderson has split time with Budaj and managed a .903 save percentage and an unhappy 3.12 goals against average.

When you come back from injury as a forward or defenseman, you can ease your way into the lineup, maybe hide a little bit. Not as a goaltender.

"When you come back from injury all your mistakes are highlighted," Anderson told ESPN.com recently.

Anderson noted that the team has also been wracked by injuries up and down the lineup, so he has been trying to adjust to a new cast of faces seemingly every night.

One might have imagined his heroic efforts last season would have provided some sort of job security. But that's not how it's worked out.

Heading into the final year of his contract, Anderson said he and the Avs talked a bit before the season but haven't talked since.

In hindsight and given the numbers Anderson has put up, it looks like GM Greg Sherman did the right thing by not offering Anderson a long-term extension. But the team's uneven defensive play and soft goaltending has put them in a precarious position vis a vis making the playoffs. That has put pressure on Sherman to upgrade the goaltending to keep the Avs in the hunt and likewise upped the ante on Anderson to prove he's still the man.

Sherman insisted in a recent interview he was happy with his goaltending tandem, but really, what else is he going to say?

We remember a similar discussion three years ago with Washington GM George McPhee when veteran Olaf Kolzig was struggling and the Caps turned around and brought in Cristobal Huet, who led the Caps to a Southeast Division crown and into the playoffs.

Regardless of who is manning the twine, it is safe to say the Avs will need better goaltending if they are going to make the playoffs this year.

Maybe it will be Anderson that provides that goaltending. He has shown he can do it, of course, but can he do it again?

Certainly his future, whether it's here in Denver or somewhere else, pretty much depends on it.

"At the end of the day you're always playing for a contract whether it's here or somewhere else," the native of Park Ridge, Illinois said.

"You earn everything," he said.

Ice time, opportunity and contracts.

"It's a business and it's what have you done for me lately," Anderson said.

That said, it would be fitting if it was Anderson who helped this young team back to the postseason. And Anderson would like nothing better than to secure a future here with the Avs.

"I see a lot of potential here. The sky's the limit. We're young, we're fast, we can score," he said.

"It's just a matter of time until we're the Chicago Blackhawks. I see that we're kind of in the same footprint."