Hockey is a game of heart, yes, but it's a game of numbers too. And numbers tell their own stories -- ones that Ondrej Pavelec says he doesn't read too closely.
"I never look at my numbers," the Jets' soft-spoken goaltender said on Friday afternoon, after kicking out a brisk practice at the MTS Centre. "It's not about the numbers, it's about the wins. It's about the two points at the end of the game."
Two points, like the pair the Jets collected on Thursday when Pavelec helped lift them to a 3-1 decision over the visiting New Jersey Devils. It wasn't a wildly busy night for the netminder -- he faced a workaday 23 shots -- but many of the Devils' chances were quality.
And Pavelec? He was sharp when he had to be: Right in position to block a Bobby Butler shot during a first-period Devils power play. Ready to pounce on a puck Alexei Ponikarovsky whipped towards the net in the opening minutes of the third, to keep the game at a 1-1 tie.
Pavelec closed the Devils game with a rosy .957 save percentage.
This is where the numbers hint at the story they could be spinning -- one of a goaltender settling into a groove that gives his team a strong chance at winning, after a stumbled stretch earlier in the season.
These are small sample sizes, to be sure. But consider this: Pavelec's numbers in a Jan. 29 game in Montreal were rough, with a save percentage of .846; two days later in Miami, almost the same. On Feb. 1, the netminder got shelled in Tampa Bay, giving up five goals on only 14 shots for a grisly .643 save percentage.
That time, he was yanked for Al Montoya.
Since that painful road trio, though, Pavelec's numbers have quietly turned around. Before the puck dropped in Buffalo on the first night of the Jets' recent five-game road trip, Pavelec's season-long save percentage sat a flat .889; six games later, it's crept up to .901 -- closer to where you'd expect an NHL starter to comfortably reside.
This is a positive story arc, but Pavelec isn't ready to call it a happy ending yet. He can be hard on himself; you have to be, he said, to stay in the league.
"Of course, you feel better," he said. "But you have to stay in the middle, not be too high or too low. We've been playing well the last couple of games. You'll wake up in the morning, and come into the rink, everybody has a smile on their face."
Asked to point to something that might have changed recently, Pavelec shrugged. "I feel the same way all season long," he said. "It's about the little details. You're not going to change anything in a couple of practices. It's about the confidence. If you're winning, you'll feel confident. It's all about the winning."
And with that winning, comes more time to settle in. Already, Pavelec has spent more time on the ice and faced more shots than all but five other NHL goalies. By all indications, the Jets will continue to ride their starter just as hard.
"I love it," Pavelec said. "I love ice time. I love to play the games... I'm just happy I can play."