Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pavs a punching bag

Even when he plays like Tretiak, fans scream for his head

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Ondrej Pavelec's first post-game assignment was the obligatory twirl around the MTS Centre ice after being named one of the three stars.

Moments later the Winnipeg Jets goaltender was in the dressing room -- this being assignment No. 2 -- conducting interviews while wearing a pilot's helmet, symbolic of beiing his teammates' pick as the game's MVP.

Big night. Big win. Big effort from the big Czech puckstopper.

Yet if you were to tune in the TSN 1290 post-game show or tap his name into a Twitter search immediately after Thursday's 3-2 win over the Phoenix Coyotes, the man who played a pivotal role in the result -- kicking out 34 shots in regulation and OT and then stopping three of four in the shootout -- still had many viciously tearing apart his game and eager to kick him to the curb.

Deal him, is a common plea. Buy him out, is another. One caller Thursday suggested the club "trade him to the minors."

And so where Pavelec was once a fan favourite, his inconsistent play -- mirrored by just about everyone else in Jets' colours since their return in 2011 -- means he has now become more of a lightning rod to the club's faithful. As a result, every game essentially becomes a referendum on his season/career/future.

Turns out that even when he does play well, there are many who already have their minds made up, after being teased by his potential in the past. That same camp wants the Jets to hand over the bulk of the work to Al Montoya, who has been lights out this year with numbers superior to Pavelec.

"I can't do anything about it... I can't control the things that people talk about," said Pavelec after practice Friday. "I've said it so many times: I don't read the newspaper or watch TV. That's good for me. I pretty much just look forward. That's all I can do."

Critical for Pavelec amid all this is the backing he has from two of the most important people in the organization: GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, who signed him to a five-year extension before the 2012-13 season, and new coach Paul Maurice, who weighed in on the subject Friday.

"I've kinda heard, and while I don't read a lot of stuff, I have picked up on the fact that people have viewed his game as (having) a real gap between on and off," said Maurice. "Consistency, I guess, is the word. I've never felt that was fair, as an outside viewer. Maybe he's a victim of some of the play he's had, where you just couldn't believe he made that save. But that can't possibly be your expectation level for a goaltender.

"My feeling on Pav is that when he doesn't reach that game -- because they've seen it enough -- they feel like he's under-performed. I just don't think that's right, I don't think that's fair."

It's been Maurice's thinking since he first slipped behind the bench in mid-January that he didn't want to evaluate Pavelec -- and, to a lesser extent, all his troops -- until a sounder defensive approach was being followed. Worth noting, since he took over Pavelec is 8-3 with a .916 save percentage and goal-against-average of 2.64 -- numbers all better than the 26-year-old's career totals.

"He's still young," Maurice reasoned. "He hasn't reached that stage where he goes on a long stretch and you go, 'He's going to be fine.' There's only a handful of guys that ever reach that (Martin) Brodeur stage. He's like the rest of them: He's got to prove it every day and there's lot of pressure that comes with that.

"I'd like to think we're going to give him a better chance to do that. And that's not a statement on the first six months here, that's me thinking back three and four years watching him play. Who knows? Two months isn't going to be the answer. We've got to give this guy some time and let him get into a confident groove where he knows he doesn't have to (perform miracles) to win."

Still, even with that kind of influential backing, there is enormous pressure on Pavelec to take that critical next step and morph into a goaltender who can push his team into the playoffs. That makes this next stretch of 21 games so important, both for the netminder and the men in front of him.

"It's important for everybody," said Pavelec. "It's the third year in the league (for Jets 2.0). It's important for the organization, how we are going to play the next games. And, of course, it's important for me.

"It is what it is. It's fun. There's always pressure on a goalie. It's all year long. It doesn't change now. You're in the net, you have to help the team win. It's the same for everybody and that's the way it should be."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 1, 2014 C1

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Updated on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 9:18 AM CST: Tweaks sidebar.

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