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Jets need more from Pavelec — much more

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Chicago Blackhawks #20

Brandon Saad of the Blackhawks tries to get the puck past Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec during the first period.

Too often this season Ondrej Pavelec has failed to bail out the Winnipeg Jets, and Saturday afternoon was a perfect example.

Pavelec isn’t breaking the Jets right now, but they need him to do more boosting. They need big saves at crucial moments to keep them in games. Pavelec isn’t providing this. He’s not killing the Jets. But he hasn’t been the life preserver they desperately need.

The Jets are fragile right now. They can’t overcome adversity.

Even when they’re doing good things, the slightest bump seems to knock them off track. Against such a backdrop they need superior goaltending. Pavelec’s numbers, a goals-against average of 3.09 and a save percentage of .902 rank 29th and 30th, respectively. Not good enough for a team like the Jets.

One can argue it’s the rest of the Jets who are making Pavelec look bad, but that wasn’t the case Saturday.

"I didn’t make any saves," said Pavelec, following Saturday’s 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in which he allowed three goals on four shots in a span of under five minutes early in the second period.

Jets coach Claude Noel, who yanked Pavelec after the fourth goal against, deflected criticism of his goalie.

"I’m not going to blame the goalie. Pavelec has made lots of big saves for us this season. There were mistakes that were made before him that led to those opportunities for Chicago," said Noel.

Fair enough. But right now, with the Jets scuffling as a team and dropping to 5-8-2 on the season, Pavelec must be brilliant. It’s in the job description of an NHL goalie.

One can hear it all around the league after a night when a goalie stops shot after impossible shot. "That’s my job," say goalies.

And when they let in a goal that leads to a loss: "I didn’t do what I needed to do to allow my team to win."

Unsure of themselves as the Jets are right now they could ill afford a soft goaltending performance on Saturday. Rather, they needed Pavelec to stand on his head, glossing over their mistakes. Not magnify them.

One might argue, as Noel did, that Pavelec did nothing to add to the Jets problems on Saturday afternoon. But he sure didn’t help solve them.

This game turned on one shift early in the second period. The Jets had played a fine first period, skating to a 1-1 tie through 20 minutes. There were lots of positives to build on.

In fact, the Jets steamed out of the dressing room and stormed down the ice to pepper Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford with three quick chances.

But Crawford didn’t win a Stanley Cup last spring by letting his team down in hot moments. He’s practised in bailing them out when they need it most.

So when Crawford turned the last of those three Jets shooters down, his teammates paid him back and zipped down the ice, with fourth-liner Brandon Bollig wiring a wrist shot from the top of the circle that beat Pavelec.

Game. Set. Match.

The disparity in the work put forward by Crawford and Pavelec on this night was glaring.

Shots on goal were 15-14 in favour of Winnipeg when Pavelec left and the scoring chances were nine apiece.

The difference? Crawford stopped all but one and gave his team the big save when the going go heavy. Pavelec did not.

Certainly, having a defence pairing of Adam Pardy and Ben Chiarot, AHLers who struggled mightily against the Hawks, didn’t help the Jets No. 1 goalie but there are a million excuses along the trail to Loserville.

This was a moment for Pavelec to stand up and save his team. But like he said himself, he saved nothing on this day.

Blaming the goalie for all the woes of the Winnipeg Jets is simplistic and would let far too many others off the hook.

The Jets have lots of issues. From a lack of quality depth on the blue-line to not enough scoring to a shortage of effective players at centre ice. Winnipeg simply isn’t good enough right now.

And that includes in the crease.

Twitter: @garylawless

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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