Winnipeg Jets fans weren’t sure what the Olympics would do to their starting goaltender, but all is well after Ondrej Pavelec played two of his best games in a long time this week.
The Jets got right into the thick of things regarding the playoff race, as they faced a fellow Wild Card outsider in the Phoenix Coyotes in their first game back. Initial reports stating that back-up Al Montoya would get the start to give Pavelec more time to adjust were quashed, as #31 led the team on to the ice on Thursday night. Pavelec had arguably his best game of the season in the following 60 minutes, making 34 saves on 36 shots, earning the game’s Third Star in the process.
Just 38 hours later, the Jets were in Music City, and Pavelec was looking for an encore. In a huge divisional game against the Nashville Predators, Pavelec stole the show with a 39-save effort, allowing a lone goal in a 3-1 Winnipeg win. It wasn’t the first time that he had shut down the Preds’ offense this season: back on October 9th, he had a 41-save shutout. With several flashy saves, including a highlight-reel stop on Viktor Stalberg, Pavelec’s bid for the goose-egg was thwarted by a deflection from Simon Moser. Pavelec was the obvious First Star choice, even in a tough opposing rink.
73 saves on 76 shots is a solid week at the office for Pavelec, who has had his ups and downs all throughout the Jets’ season. A .901% save percentage and 2.97 GAA heading into the week has turned into a .904% save percentage and 2.90 GAA. Small increases, yes, but they are headed in the right direction.
Both performances come less than a week after Pavelec was pulled after allowing 4 goals on 16 shots to Team USA, who ended the Czech’s Olympic tournament in Sochi last Wednesday. Jets fans had reason to worry that the tournament would rock the already-tipsy goaltending boat, but the storm clouds seem to have cleared, at least for now.
Head Coach Paul Maurice sang Pavelec’s praises after the win in Nashville:
“So he’s played the same way, believe it or not, that he played prior to [the Olympic break]. He’s had a big stretch of really good games and then every once in a while he plays a game like he did tonight.”
A confident coach is a great sign for the Jets, who are currently tied with Vancouver and Dallas with 66 points, although the Stars hold a two-game advantage going into the week ahead.
So, Jets fans, we are at the familiar bridge once again. Pavelec is peaking, and for the team, it couldn’t have come at a better time. Will he be able to sustain it? That answer lies in Maurice’s hands, who will have to manage the starts between Pavelec and Montoya (who played extremely well before the break) very precisely. With some help from the defense, and a fully restocked forward line-up, the Jets look to have their best stretch of the year in the final 20 games of the regular season.
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