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Pavelec key to complete games for the Jets

Hard to win without top-notch play in net

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The point was less than delicately made to me by a member of the Winnipeg Jets last season on the matter of goaltending and how key it is in the NHL.

"Good teams can't win in this league without great goaltending. Let alone a team like ours," grumbled the veteran.

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Tuesday's 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres was a confirmation of this statement. Ondrej Pavelec wasn't perfect, but he gave the Jets timely saves and when they slipped up, he bailed them out.

Pavelec was the difference on a night that ended happily for the Jets but also underscored how incomplete a group this team remains.

If Pavelec has been ordinary, as he has been all too often this season, this game ends badly for the Jets and this would be a column based on a four-game losing streak rather than the joy of opening a five-game road trip with a win.

Winning and losing is a fine line for the Jets. They can't overcome too many players having bad nights, least of all Pavelec.

Head coach Claude Noel said it best following the game: "(Pavelec) really helped us win the game."

Expecting a goalie to steal games isn't a long-term plan and Pavelec isn't considered an elite netminder capable of doing so but for the rare night. But he can't be a liability.

The Jets remain offensively challenged and cannot boast a pure sniper among their group. Goals are hard to come by and that's not going to change overnight.

Andrew Ladd has been the team's most consistent goal scorer since they arrived in Winnipeg with 36 over that 97-game span. That input says a lot about Ladd's game but even more about the Jets as a whole. The captain is a gamer with undervalued offensive abilities but if he's your top sniper, you better be getting good goaltending.

To say it's all Pavelec wouldn't be accurate. Noel has been preaching a different style of game and the last three outings, including losses to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins, have featured a more complete defensive effort by the Jets.

Noel called it, "winning the right way," after Tuesday's game. That's a focus on team defence, supporting the puck in their own zone and limiting turnovers.

Playing on the perimeter doesn't work against the modern-day NHL goalie. They need to be bumped and screened. The Jets have adopted this style over the last few games, and on Tuesday, it resulted in a win.

The Winnipeg Jets need to understand what they are and try to live within their means. They're a mid- to low-level club at this juncture and to thrive they have to follow the simplest of game plans. Defence first, followed by dirty offence.

But none of that matters if Ondrej Pavelec doesn't do his job. Tuesday, they got it right on all those fronts.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 20, 2013 C1

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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 www.winnipegfreepress.com
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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