Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec believes he made a mistake recently.
In between his drinking-and-driving conviction last June -- for which he has taken responsibility and also apologized -- and one really bad week early in this NHL season.
"At that moment, I wanted to play," he said of his decision to play in the Czech Republic, near his home town, and briefly in Finland, during the NHL lockout that lasted from September to January. "I didn't want to sit down. If I look back, I don't think it was the best decision.
"The ice was bigger, different kind of hockey. It's two sides. One side was that I was really happy, had a chance to play at home in my country. I had fun, that's for sure. But if you talk about the hockey and getting ready for the NHL, it was not the smartest decision.
"If the same situation were to happen again, I wouldn't play."
The kind reviews said the 25-year-old netminder was average in the first three or four weeks of the late-starting 2013 NHL season.
After that, he clearly improved. His goals-against average between the early and latest segments is down half a goal a game and that difference, heading into tonight's game in Raleigh, N.C., against the Carolina Hurricanes (6 p.m. CT, TSNJets, TSN1290) has propelled the Jets from draft-lottery talk to real contenders for a post-season berth.
So now the questions are, did he rediscover his game in time and can he keep it up?
"It wasn't a great start," Pavelec said. "And those three games in a row (Jan. 29 to Feb. 1), I was awful. After that, it wasn't that bad. I wouldn't say it was a bad start, just slower.
"But I didn't play for a while; didn't face NHL players for eight months. I was happy that I was Czech, I really enjoyed that, but I don't think it was the best hockey decision to be honest. So I was really happy we started the NHL.
"It took me a while to just get comfortable, to get sharp, to be sharp enough to help the team to get wins."
Pavelec said he really didn't want to hear about the difference in his stats from early to now.
"I've said so many times I don't look at the numbers," Pavelec said. "I wasn't worried. I knew I could play, could do this. But at the same time, I knew it wasn't going to be easy.
"And it was the same for a lot of people who didn't play hockey (during the lockout). I knew it was going to take some time. A lot of games right away. Maybe that was a good thing to help me to get going."
Jets captain Andrew Ladd said he's not aware of anyone in the Jets' room who second-guessed Pavelec's decision to play in Europe during the lockout, or even why the goalie struggled in the early going of the NHL season.
"It's such a unique situation," Ladd said. "It was new to a lot of people. He didn't know what to do. You live and learn. There was no second-guessing him. He was probably our most valuable player last year and you don't criticize those people."
The only thing Ladd said he cared about was what a difference Pavelec is now making on his team.
"He, especially this last month, month and a half, he's given us a chance to win every night with making those big saves," the captain said. "For me, it's him being aggressive and it seems when he's aggressive, he's such a tough goalie to beat."
Pavelec's repeating theme for reporters is almost always that tomorrow's a new day, but he did confess that he feels more like himself today than he did in Game 1 on Jan. 19.
"I just feel really good lately," Pavelec said. "Now we have to keep winning. All of it is kind of playoffs. It's tight and you need points."
Where the standings stand
BASED on performance so far, the projected Eastern Conference standings for 48 games:
1. Pittsburgh 72.7
2. Montreal 69.7
3. Winnipeg 52.3
4. Boston 69.7
5. Ottawa 61.0
6. Toronto 55.2
7. New Jersey 53.8
8. Carolina 51.2
9. NY Rangers 51.1
10. Washington 46.5
11. NY Islanders 46.5
12. Buffalo 45.0
13. Philadelphia 43.4
14. Tampa Bay 40.5
15. Florida 34.9
Consensus is that it will take 54 or 55 points to be assured of a playoff spot. To reach 54 points, the Jets will need 18 points from their final 15 games. That's a record of 9-6. If you need a comparison to what they have done, the Jets' most recent 15 games yielded a mark of 9-5-1.
First 4 weeks3-8-13.14.889
Last 5 weeks11-6-12.61.910