Anyone who has paid attention to the Winnipeg Jets’ 2013-14 season has seen an up-and-down year. Not only is the team slowly improving, but so are the players. Jets’ starting goalie Ondrej Pavelec has finally made due on his promise to improve, and Jets fans are watching the 26-year old play some of his best hockey in the last three seasons.
The Jets have had underrated goaltending even before the franchise shifted to Winnipeg, as the former Thrashers never had a true top-10 goaltender on their team. Jets GM Kevin Chevaldayoff knew that an elite goaltender wasn’t required to bring the team success, but merely one that could hold them in games, while the 5 players in front of him do their job as well. In the beginning, the Jets struggled with that mindset, but now the Jets are buying in to the program. Winger Evander Kane had this to say about Pavelec’s job in-goal:
“You have to play well in front of your goaltender in order for him to have a good save percentage, if you look at his highlight-reel, I don’t know if any other goaltender in the league can compare to it.”
The former 2nd round draft pick is on his way to tying his career-high in GAA (2.73), and is only .001 shy of the same with his save percentage (currently .913%). The latter currently puts him at 23rd in the NHL, well within the ranks of starting goaltenders. Some say it was just a matter of time before Pavelec showed gains, but 2013 has put more pressure on the goaltender than ever before.
The onset of the coming Olympics in Sochi has driven Pavelec to one of his best years ever, as he will be handed the starting role for his native country, the Czech Republic. Pavelec was the nation’s #1 goaltender in 2010 as well, the same year that he set his career highs in GAA and SV%. The international game will be a great opportunity to hone his skills, and he will be put to the test, as the Czechs face a tough draw from the opening faceoff in Russia.
Pavelec says he’s ready for the challenge:
“I’m worried about my job and what I’m doing. It’s my job to stop some pucks and win make some saves. I’m focused on myself and I’m going to be better this year.”
Credit Jets’ back-up Al Montoya for taking some of the weight off Pavelec’s shoulders, after the young goaltender started 44 out of 48 games in the 2013 short-season.
Pavelec’s chance to shine at the Olympics will only be a stepping stone to the goaltender’s main objective: taking the Jets to the playoffs. When he returns on the 27th of February, Jets fans are going to be looking for an improved, more confident net-minder that can play big minutes as the club tries to make the post-season for the first time since moving to the ‘Peg.
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