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Pavelec issue tough to figure

Jets GM has goalie questions to answer before next season

Posted: 03/20/2014 2:05 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 03/20/2014 8:32 AM | Updates

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Another season for the Winnipeg Jets and another poor overall performance in the crease. If the Jets are ever going to go from perennial springtime duds to playoff bloomers, they must improve their goals against. Priority No. 1.

In Winnipeg, when the discussion turns to save percentage and stopping the puck, goaltender Ondrej Pavelec is a hot button topic.

Pavelec is among the busiest goalies in the league, having played almost 3,000 minutes, but ranks 36th in the league in save percentage with a .902 mark among goalies with a minimum of 24 games played.

Pavelec also has a 2.97 goals against average, which ranks 36th. The Jets are 18th in the league in shots against per game with an average of 30.4 and 21st in goals against, having allowed 192 goals against.

Pavelec's understudy Al Montoya owns a save percentage of .924 and a goals-against average of 2.18 through 23 games played.

The argument Montoya is better slams up hard against the much smaller sample size of work -- he's only seen 1,264 minutes of action.

What's it all mean? The Jets aren't strong in enough in the goals-against department and Pavelec is the biggest common denominator.

The bottom line is the Jets aren't moving forward until they figure out a way to keep the puck out of the net with more regularity. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will have some decisions to make on this front over the off-season.

Here are five thoughts on all things goalie for the Jets:

1. Pavelec is in his seventh NHL season and his career save percentage is .906 coupled with a 2.96 goals-against average. Now, he's played behind porous defensive groups in both Atlanta and Winnipeg but the argument can also be made that he's part of the problem. Chicken or the egg and all that. So what is it?

Is Pavelec a sub-standard goalie who has held his team back or has he overachieved behind a terrible defensive group. Somewhere in the middle is my thought.

2. Can Pavelec be better? He's just 26 despite having already played in 283 NHL games. His fitness has always been questioned and that's a good place to start. Next is his puck-handling work. Both of these things are controllable and Pavelec can improve them through off-season work and commitment. Can he take his game to a higher level? He has the athleticism and instincts as some of the brilliant highlight reel saves he's made over the years will attest. But consistency has always been lacking. Pavelec has been the backbone of the Jets but he's been far too pliant. This team needs a rigid wall. Cheveldayoff must decide whether Pavelec can provide the next level of goaltending.

3. What about Al? The Jets are all but officially eliminated from the post-season and now is the time to find out if 29-year-old Montoya can be more than a backup. The former first-round pick has a career save percentage of .910 and a goals-against average of 2.62 in 4,748 minutes of work. Not much different than Pavelec's but some believe he's come to a point in his career where he's overcome the injuries that have plagued him and he's ready to be more. Running him out for 10 straight games or so would give Cheveldayoff more insight on the issue.

4. Free agency. Ryan Miller, Jonas Hiller and Jaroslav Halak lead the unrestricted goalie class this summer and all would have to be considered an improvement over the Jets current tandem. But they'll be expensive and if Cheveldayoff was able to land one of the trio, he'd have to clear salary to make room.

Montoya is cheap and a UFA himself so that's not a consideration. But Pavelec is scheduled to make $3.9 million for the next three seasons and the Jets couldn't take on a new goalie at an even higher rate and keep him. So a trade or a buyout would be the options.

The other goalie of interest out there is Toronto Maple Leafs stopper and Manitoba native James Reimer. His career numbers of .915 and 2.81 are marginally better than Pavelec's and it sounds like he's going to be on the trade market this summer.

5. Stand pat. The option to re-sign Montoya, who'll want a raise and more than the one-year term Cheveldayoff gave him last summer, and open the competition for the crease between him and Pavelec seems the most likely but could also be the most risky.

Many parts of this team are ready to advance and if it becomes clear that goaltending is indeed holding the Jets back, not making a change will grate in the room, behind the bench and in the stands.

PAVELEC'S GAME LOG SINCE PAUL MAURICE TOOK OVER THE JETS:

Date Game Shots Goals Save % Result
March 14 Rangers 8 2 .750 4-2 loss
March 12 Canucks 33 2 .939 3-2 SO loss
March 8 Senators 20 5 .750 5-2 loss
March 6 Kings 41 3 .927 3-1 loss
March 4 Islanders 27 3 .889 3-2 OT loss
March 1 Predators 40 1 .975 3-1 win
Feb. 27 Coyotes 36 2 .944 3-2 SO win
Feb. 6 Capitals 30 4 .867 4-2 loss
Feb. 4 Hurricanes 29 1 .966 2-1 win
Jan. 31 Canucks 26 3 .885 4-3 win
Jan. 28 Predators 25 4 .840 4-3 loss
Jan. 25 Leafs 28 4 .857 5-4 SO win
Jan. 23 Sharks 32 1 .969 1-0 loss
Jan. 21 Ducks 42 2 .952 3-2 win
Jan. 18 Oilers 22 2 .909 3-2 OT win
Jan. 16 Flames 22 2 .909 5-2 win
Jan. 13 Coyotes 19 1 .947 5-1 win

 

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 20, 2014 D2

History

Updated on Thursday, March 20, 2014 at 8:32 AM CDT: Adds table

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