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This article was published 4/2/2016 (1653 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The great goaltending unknown is directly ahead, as if the Winnipeg Jets’ season hasn’t been unsettling enough.
Who will play? Who will play the most? Who will play well? Who will win, if anybody?
Not a lot of answers are obvious.
The only thing certain is that Ondrej Pavelec, who will miss a 30th straight game tonight when the Jets meet the Carolina Hurricanes at the MTS Centre, will be ready very soon.
Jets coach Paul Maurice said Thursday it’s only a matter of days, not weeks, now.
Pavelec himself said he could actually play tonight if he was needed.
"If I have to, yes," Pavelec said.
Not so fast, Maurice said later.
"Is the second part of that phrase ("if he was needed") important?" the coach said. "That’s a real critical piece because the vast majority of players in the NHL will tell you, that a guy at 60 per cent, ‘If you need me , I can play.’
"I don’t want to put a goaltender in a position that he’s not 100 per cent and he hasn’t played in 21/2 months. That wouldn’t be the time we’re squeezing him back in a few days early based on being out as long as he has."
There are still a couple of steps to go before Pavelec does return, Maurice said.
"He’s starting to feel better and stronger on the ice," Maurice said. "He’s starting to look that. He still has a ways to go before he’s ready for a 60-minute hockey game either in the American league or the NHL.
"The next step is he’s going to have to hold his own net in practice and run straight through it. I think it’s a matter of days not weeks before we get him to the point where it becomes my decision whether I want him to put him in. But it’s not there yet."
The coach wouldn’t commit to any option, including a possible conditioning game with the Manitoba Moose, who play at home Saturday afternoon for instance, when it would be logistically very easy to have Pavelec play.
Pavelec hasn’t been in action since being run into by Arizona Coyotes’ Shane Doan in the second period of a game here Nov. 21.
(Pavelec, incidentally, confirmed Thursday Doan apologized to him for the contact after the game that night.)
The goalie sounded quite pleased with the progress he’s made of late.
"It’s going really well," Pavelec said. "I’ve been practising for a really long time now. I’m getting closer."
But he said he didn’t know when he would play.
"No (idea)," he said. "Right now it’s not going to be up to me. Obviously I’m ready to go. I’ve been practising. Now we have three goalies, so we’ll see.
"It’s not a decision for me right now."
Pavelec noted it has been a long grind in his recovery from the knee sprain, during which Connor Hellebuyck has played the majority of games.
"Helly’s played really well here," he said. "So it’s not easy for sure. It wasn’t easy for the first few days I couldn’t do anything."
"After that you focus to get back as soon as possible."
On potentially having a three-goalie room when he’s ready, Pavelec said it was no big deal.
"The same," he said. "That’s not different at all. You’re part of the team. Everybody in the room is part of the team. I don’t feel any different at all."
When Pavelec is activated on the NHL roster, it will be time to choose either the three-goalie solution, or how to divvy up the time between just two.
Hellebuyck, who’s likely to get his 12th straight start tonight, and Michael Hutchinson are the others bidding for time.
There, the numbers have all kinds of nuance.
Pavelec was 5-6-1 with a goals-against average of 2.82 when he went down.
Hellebuyck has now played 23 NHL games, all of them since Pavelec went out, and is 12-10-1 with a GAA of 2.19, though he’s lost four of his last five.
And Hutchinson is 5-9-1 on the season, without a win since Nov. 21, the day Pavelec was hurt.
Updated on Thursday, February 4, 2016 at 8:55 PM CST: writethrough
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