Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pavs under siege

Some critics think he's so bad he has a 6-hole

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LOS ANGELES -- It took just 20 minutes for the debate to flare up again.

Three goals in one period on 16 shots had Jets Nation screaming about the work of Ondrej Pavelec.

Stepping back into the crease after missing six games with a lower-body injury, Pavelec allowed three bad goals by the Los Angeles Kings in a 4-2 loss. Backup Al Montoya allowed a softie of his own after coming on in relief and fans aren't exactly enamoured with his work either.

Goaltending remains a big question mark for the team, but one person who is calm and philosophical about the discussion is Pavelec.

The 26-year-old is in the second year of a five-year contract worth $19.5 million and will see his pay rise from $3.5 million to $3.75 million next season.

The member of the Czech Republic Olympic team was sweating after a long workout when approached in the Jets dressing room Friday. Feeling a little warm, due to hot lights turned his way by Winnipeg fans and media, is something he's gotten used to as part of life as a No. 1 goalie in a Canadian NHL market.

"It is what it is. It's part of the job and you have to get used to it or it will make you crazy," said Pavelec. "I can't say I don't read the papers or watch TV, but I try not to. But even when you don't read something, you know what people are saying. Someone will tell you what they're saying about you. You have to try and keep it outside. If you let it inside, it could bring you down."

Pavelec's every save and every result is broken down and dissected. That's how it works in Canadian cities. It's often said the most popular man in town is the backup goalie on the local NHL club. Right behind him is the backup quarterback with the local CFL outfit.

Turn on the radio and the callers are crying for Pavelec to be bought out this summer. Open the paper and there's an article breaking down Pavelec's numbers and questioning whether he's truly No. 1 material.

Coach Paul Maurice tried to deflect the blame away from his goalies after Saturday's loss.

"I understand how it looked in the first period, but I'm not putting this game on the goaltenders," he said. "The goalies were as good as the rest of the hockey club. We're not saying we need some saves to get us going. Shame on us. It's a 20-man group. Can our goalies be better? Yes. But that first period wasn't a goalie issue. That puck dropped and (the Kings) came out flying. Regardless of how the puck crossed the line, it's on all of us."

Pavelec's save percentage is .902 and ranks 40th in the NHL among goalies with 24 starts or more. His goals against average of 3.02 is 38th.

Understudy Montoya had started the last six straight games while Pavelec was out with an injury to his right leg. Montoya went 3-3 over that stretch and while his numbers on the season -- .920 (11th) and 2.30 (10th) -- are much better, he's played only 1,542 minutes to Pavelec's 3,005.

All season there has been calls for more Montoya. The Jets, however, haven't lost faith in Pavelec.

"Ondrej is a very good goalie and he's shown that he can play at that elite level," said Jets goalie coach Wade Flaherty. "We haven't given up on him. Certainly not. Can there be improvement? That can be said of every goalie in the NHL. We've done a lot of work the last few years and we'll continue. It's development. Every goalie has his own pace of progression. Some come into the league like Marc-Andre Fleury and have immediate success. Others, like Tim Thomas, it takes them longer. He was 30."

For his part, Pavelec says the constant scrutiny and waffling back and forth between hero and goat isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"All goalies, not just me, are supposed to win. And we haven't won enough games here. So the goalie is going to get blamed. That's the way the NHL works in Canada. It's that way for me in the Czech Republic, too," said Pavelec. "The people care. That's why the media is always here. That's a good thing. In Atlanta, nobody cared. There was no media. That's no good. We need people to care about what we do."

Pavelec was stretching the other day and said hi to some media walking by. When the group got into the elevator, someone said, "I like Pav. I just wish he was better."

In many ways, this is the sentiment of everyone involved with the fortunes of the Winnipeg Jets. Pavelec is well-liked by his teammates and the media that cover the team on a daily basis. He's accessible, can be funny, is candid and isn't afraid to show his emotions.

Winnipeg would love to love Pavelec. His somewhat broken English, humility and easy smile made him a fan favourite immediately upon his arrival in Manitoba.

The losses, however, have stacked up and taken some of that lustre off. Still, Pavelec hasn't changed one bit.

Lots of people pretend to know the answer where Pavelec is concerned. Don't count me in that group. I'm not a student of goaltending and can only rely on the numbers.

And the numbers have to get better. That we can all agree upon.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 31, 2014 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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