Coming into this season, not many were predicting the Winnipeg Jets would make the playoffs in a very difficult Western Conference. And if you were to give just one reason why the Jets were going to fall short, Ondrej Pavelec would have topped the list.
Ever since the Jets landed back in Winnipeg, Pavelec has been their No. 1 netminder even though his numbers were never that special. From 2012-2014, Pavelec’s save percentage dropped from .906 to .905 to .901, while his goals-against average went from 2.91, to 2.80, to 3.01.
The problem was that the Jets were stuck with him. After his first season in Winnipeg, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff signed Pavelec to a five-year extension with a $3.9 million cap hit. And as his numbers worsened, it became harder and harder to get him off the books. The prevailing opinion seemed to be that as long as the Jets were stuck with Pavelec, they’d be locked out of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Now the tables have turned. Pavelec is the one willing the Jets into the playoffs with his tremendous play down the stretch.
Giving credit where it’s due, Pavelec carried a .943 save percentage through the onto of February and in wins Monday and Tuesday against tough-outs Minnesota and St. Louis, Pavelec earned the first back-to-back shutouts of his career.
He was absolutely stellar in Tuesday’s 1-0 win.
Pavelec is no longer the heel – he’s the guy leading his tired squad to a road win against one of the best teams in the NHL.
To date this season, Winnipeg’s goalie has a .919 save percentage with a 2.34 GAA and four shutouts. It’s a career year for the Czech goalie.
But the question still has to be asked: do you trust him in the biggest moments?
As good as Pavelec has been – and we can’t stress enough the importance of his role in Winnipeg’s playoff charge – he’s still a goalie who’s prone to give up the softie at the wrong time. Sure he was great against St. Louis Tuesday, but do you remember what happened the last time the Jets played in St. Louis?
Pavelec came on in relief of Michael Hutchinson and played well enough that the Jets crawled back from a three-goal deficit. Then this happened, and Winnipeg lost.
As Chris Boyle wrote on Sportsnet earlier this season, Pavelec relies on the big save too often. And while those make the highlight reels and are fun to watch, it generally means the goalie was either out of position, or just beaten before miraculously getting back into it. After Boyle’s breakdown, he even suggests that if the Jets wanted to make a real playoff run, they’d be smart to flip the usage of Pavelec and Hutchingon.
What do you think, has Pavelec turned a corner, or is this hot streak bound to cool off? He’s currently leading the Jets in their playoff bid, but does that make him more likely to burn them when it matters most?