They say the job of an NHL goaltender isn't to steal games but to just give his team a chance to win. However, that's not enough for the Winnipeg Jets.
The Jets ran their win streak to four games on Friday night in a 3-2 shootout with the Philadelphia Flyers, but without the heroics of Ondrej Pavelec, this would have been a loss.
It's no easy chore being the No. 1 goalie in a Canadian city. Ask Carey Price and Roberto Luongo about the newspaper and talk-radio experts calling for them to be traded or benched at every halting step. Pavelec, too, knows the burn of the media pushing for more time for his understudy, Al Montoya.
Right here in this column the common refrain about Pavelec has been he must be better. Well, he has been better. And the Jets' record has shot up as a result and now sits at 10-9-2.
Is Pavelec the only reason? No, just like he wasn't the root cause of the Jets' earlier struggles. But he's been a big part of the resurgence.
The Jets aren't balanced enough as a team at this point for Pavelec to be merely good. He must be great if this team is to nose around the playoff line.
None of this is news to Pavelec. It might be frustrating at times when he's blamed for porous defensive work in front of him, but he seems to understand his role.
Some clubs can afford to have a goalie who is steady yet unremarkable. Not the Jets. They need Pavelec to be elite. If he's not, they're not.
Friday was a perfect example, as the Jets had a number of players sleep-walk their way through the contest. The pressure on Pavelec was immense at times. The shots on goal may have favoured the Jets -- 38-34 was the final tally -- but the scoring chances the Flyers were able to mount on Pavelec were more indicative of the game.
Philadelphia goalie Steve Mason had his share of work to tend to, but it was Pavelec that had to pull this game from the fire for his team.
He was near perfect in the shootout, stopping four of five shooters to make Bryan Little's goal stand up as the winner. Give that round to Pavelec.
The Flyers buzzed the Jets' crease in overtime and threatened to score several times, but the Jets goalie denied them. Give that round to Pavelec.
The final seconds of the third period featured the Flyers pouring pressure on the Winnipeg net, only to be turned down by Pavelec. Give that round to Pavelec.
The Jets can claim to have won four games in a row, but at least two of those victories -- Friday night's and Tuesday's over the Red Wings in Detroit -- would have been losses had Pavelec not turned in superior efforts.
The good news is he can take his game to the level needed to support the sometimes wobbly Jets.
Winnipeg's coaching staff, however, should not ignore the lessons made clear in the two games they recently made Pavelec sit out. Montoya can be effective when used, but more importantly, Pavelec is better when he's rested and pushed.
The notion that Pavelec is a 70-game goalie should be set aside. His results would be better in a season that saw him play between 60 and 65 games. Montoya must be used more often.
It makes Pavelec better, which the Jets so clearly need.
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