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Zatkoff Activated, But Has Budaj Staked His Claim?

Comparing Budaj’s performance with those who came before him. Is it good enough?

NHL: Calgary Flames at Los Angeles Kings Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Kings — for now, at least — have survived their goaltending crisis.

Sure, having no Jonathan Quick isn’t ideal. But after three weeks of rolling with their #3 and #4 goaltenders, just having a healthy goalie who had an NHL job last season feels like a big improvement. Jeff Zatkoff, who suffered a groin injury during practice immediately after giving up five goals to the Minnesota Wild, has been activated from injured reserve. (Jack Campbell, who stopped five shots in his only period of work, will return to the Ontario Reign.) Zatkoff has gotten off to an inauspicious start for LA, having allowed nine goals in two starts, but he’s certainly capable of better.

Zatkoff is going to have to wait for a chance to prove that, though. You don’t take out a hot goaltender, and right now, that’s what Peter Budaj is. Despite winning his first four starts, very few people were convinced that Budaj was capable of being a quality starter, as his early performances were less than convincing. In fact, in each of his first two starts, he gave up a game-tying goal with the opposing goalie pulled.

Since then, he’s had exactly one bad start, when he gave up four in two periods to the Ducks. The other six games have seen him stop at least 90% of his shots. Budaj’s rolling with a .912 save percentage, slightly below league average, but his .938 save percentage is good for seventh in the league. Seventh! That’s offset largely by his .816 save percentage on the PK, which is fourth-worst among starters, but his overall performance has certainly been all right.

For the sake of comparison, here’s how Budaj’s first ten games stack up with those of other recent Kings goaltenders. The below shows the save percentage of each LA goalie (since the lockout) through ten games, in the first year they actually hit the ten-game mark. (thanks Hockey Reference.)

Peter Budaj: .912
(date range: October 18, 2016 - November 5, 2016)

Jhonas Enroth: .931
(date range: October 22, 2015 - February 2, 2016)

Martin Jones: .955
(date range: December 3, 2013 - December 30, 2013)

Ben Scrivens: .946
(date range: October 4, 2013 - November 23, 2013)

Jonathan Bernier: .907
(date range: October 10, 2010 - December 29, 2010)

Jonathan Quick: .927
(date range: December 19, 2008 - January 12, 2009)

Erik Ersberg: .935
(date range: February 23, 2008 - March 26, 2008)

JS Aubin: .887
(date range: October 16, 2007 - December 10, 2007)

Sean Burke: .931
(date range: January 20, 2007 - February 18, 2007)

Barry Brust: .881
(date range: November 30, 2006 - January 18, 2007)

Dan Cloutier: .873
(date range: October 6, 2006 - November 4, 2006)

Jason LaBarbera: .921
(date range: October 6, 2005 - November 5, 2005)

It’s a pretty impressive set of debuts, even with several unheralded names. It’s also interesting to note how many of them were thrown into the fire, so to speak; counting Budaj, 6 of the 12 hit their tenth game within a month of their first start, and three others did it within two months.

Budaj’s performance hasn’t been otherworldly, and it hasn’t even been as good as the majority of those who came before him. But for a team as defensively strong as the Kings, it’s been enough for him to go 6-3-0, and for him to go 6-0-0 in games where the Kings managed to score. For that reason, Zatkoff might have to wait his turn.