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The numbers don't lie

But neither do they tell the full story on Jets goalie Pavelec

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Not surprisingly, improved overall defensive play the past two games has been accompanied by better numbers from Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Not surprisingly, improved overall defensive play the past two games has been accompanied by better numbers from Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec. Photo Store

Ondrej PAVELEC isn't going to pretend here: He knows what his personal statistics are -- every single one of them -- and where he ranks among his NHL puck-stopping brethren.

And you don't have to be Terry Sawchuk to understand those totals are pretty darn gruesome.

"I know my numbers. I know where I am," said Pavelec Friday. "But I've been saying it since the start of the season: My goal is to help this team get into the playoffs. We talk about it, but we really want to make it happen. And so everything else is pretty much not as important.

"The only numbers I really care about are the two points and trying to get the win every night."

Now it's been said this week by no less an authority than Paul Maurice, the Winnipeg Jets' new coach and Pavelec's new boss, that it's difficult to evaluate the club's No. 1 netminder until there is a clear understanding of how to play defence by the men in front of him.

That's a take which has only further fuelled what has been the critical component of the Pavelec debate since this franchise relocated here from Atlanta 21/2 years ago. Namely, is the 26-year-old Czech a good goaltender who has helped keep a sub-par squad in the playoff fight over the last two seasons? Or, as the numbers might suggest, is he a sub-par goaltender just good enough to keep a team out of the Stanley Cup derby?

While that is being tossed around and debated at office water coolers and watering holes everywhere Jets fans gather, this much is certain: No player will be impacted more by Maurice's defensive preachings than the club's last line of defence.

"Every coach is different," said Pavelec. "Every coach runs a practice different. Every coach teaches different, coaches differently. I've been here a long time... the last two games we just played great defensively. But it's only two games. Everybody's excited and that's great because we have to build confidence. We have to build a winning attitude. And if we're going to play like that, great. We know we can do it, now it's a matter of doing it on the ice for every game.

"But playing good defence, it's not just for me, it's for everybody. The coach said if we play good defence, it will help create offence. Of course, for me, it's great to see the team play like this in front of me. They're blocking shots, they're playing hard and they're just trying to keep things simple. It's a start."

But it's an important start. The Jets as an organization -- primarily GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and Claude Noel up to the last days before his departure -- have been steadfast in their belief Pavelec is an elite goaltender. Cheveldayoff was running the Chicago Wolves when Pavelec led the squad to a Calder Cup title in 2008 and, one year after the Jets' rebirth, signed his goaltender to a five-year deal worth $19.5 million.

So all of this -- Maurice's push for more of a defensive commitment and the Jets' unwavering faith in Pavelec -- should make for a rather compelling storyline to follow in the next three months.

And Pavelec, more than anyone, understands all that. The numbers? Maybe they'll continue to improve. But his goal remains the same: To be playing meaningful hockey in late April.

"It's not a secret that a team needs a goalie to play well to have success," said Pavelec. "And the goalie needs the team in front of him to be successful in front of him. We are a team. We need everybody.

"But if we don't win, it doesn't matter. If your save percentage is 93 or 94 and we don't make the playoffs, then we're still going home after April 11. It's always about the two points. Sometimes you let in four goals, five goals, but your team scores six to help you get the win. Other times you give up one or two and your team has trouble scoring and you lose.

"My job is to try to help the team get a win," Pavelec added. "I don't want to say anything right now about my season. After the season I'll see where we end up and whether or not we make the playoffs. For me, that's what it's all about. That's how every goalie should be judged."

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 18, 2014 C2

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