Ondrej Pavelec (Photo by Lance Thomson/NHLI via Getty Images)
Ondrej Pavelec has taken more than his fair share of blame in Winnipeg, but with his recent performance it’s time for Jets fans to give the goaltender some love. With four shutouts in the past month, Pavelec almost single-handedly locked up a playoff berth for Winnipeg.
At points in the last four seasons, it’s seemed as though the Winnipeg Jets faithful would have rallied around anyone who gathered up pitchforks and torches to run Ondrej Pavelec out of town. Now, it wouldn’t be so strange if some of those same fans were thinking about making a purchase of a Pavelec sweater.
Things were at their low point for Pavelec and the Jets when, in a March 10 game, a shot from center ice by St. Louis Blues defenseman Barret Jackman beat Pavelec in the midst of a miraculous comeback by the Jets. Myself a Winnipegger, the game was on at a local spot I was at that evening. When Jackman’s shot found net – and I solemnly swear this is true – a man wearing a Pavelec jersey immediately took it off, got up and left.
That goal, one that had Jets fans crying for Michael Hutchinson to get back between the pipes, was exactly one month ago. Funny what three straight shutouts will do for the perception of a goaltender, isn’t it?
While it’s easy to look at Pavelec’s back-to-back-to-back blank slates as simply one of those things – another goaltender on an inevitable hot streak – it’s incredible how great his timing is. At the moment the Jets needed him most, Pavelec hasn’t simply stepped up; he has closed the door, locked it and hammered that sucker shut.
On March 11, the day after the Jackman shot fluttered past Pavelec’s glove and delivered a punch to the stomach of Jets’ fans everywhere, Pavelec was in his familiar position of being one of the most maligned goaltenders in the league. But since that day, he has rattled off a record of 9-2-1, posted four shutouts and has been one of the best goaltenders in the league.
In 12 games since March 11, Pavelec’s .951 save percentage is the third best mark at 5-on-5 in the entire NHL, even ranking ahead of Minnesota Wild savior Devan Dubnyk. Pavelec’s 13 goals against at 5-on-5 is the lowest total of any netminder to play at least 10 games since March 11, and he’s faced the 11th most shots (253) over that span.
At all strengths and situations, no goaltender who has played at least 10 games ranks in the top 20 of goals against, yet Pavelec, who has only allowed 18 pucks to squeak by him since the blunder in St. Louis, ranks 14th alongside goaltenders who have played anything from five to nine games.
Admittedly, the sample size is small – over the course of the year, Pavelec has been mediocre and his detractors aren’t without merit. However, considering the amount of pressure Pavelec had placed upon him, what he has done for the Winnipeg Jets is nothing short of brilliant.
Consider that this past off-season, no one would have been shocked had the Jets bought out Pavelec. The day following the Jackman goal, the Winnipeg Sun’s Paul Friesen raised the question whether Pavelec would ever play another game in Winnipeg following this season. In the Winnipeg Free Press on April 6, Gary Lawless pointed out how one can’t Google Pavelec’s name without reading headline after headline about his contract. He’s not wrong.
I’m not without fault, either. During Winnipeg’s most tumultuous goaltending period in late February and early March, I wrote about how it could be Pavelec and Hutchinson that faltered to cost the Jets the playoffs. The exact opposite has happened, as goaltending delivered them the post-season.
Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, who was questioned so greatly about his decision to not buy out the netminder, is probably smiling himself to sleep thanks to Pavelec’s play of late. And while it’s just that – his play over the past month – it may be enough to silence some of Pavelec’s critics next season. After all, four shutouts in a month is impressive. How Pavelec has played to get the Jets into the playoffs will likely never be forgotten and become something of lore in Winnipeg.
When it was announced a team was coming to Winnipeg, the city’s main intersection at Portage and Main was shut down as fans flocked there to celebrate the return of their beloved team. After last night’s shutout by Pavelec – in a game the Jets lost but took a single point in, which is the point that clinched the playoff berth – fans closed down the intersection again in the dead of night. While the Jets will tell you everything they’ve accomplished they’ve done so as a team, there was probably at least one “Pavy, Pavy, Pavy!” chant that broke out during last night’s celebration. With good reason, too.
He’s not going to be Winnipeg’s goaltender of the future, but fans don’t care about that right now. As of today, Pavelec is their starting goaltender and he brought them to the playoffs. For that, he deserves all the credit in the world.