December 6, 2019

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Redemption, one save at a time

Pavelec on pace to serve up crow to a few doubters

It's not that the Winnipeg Jets are winning right now that is most important but how they are doing it.

And at the heart of how they are doing it is everybody's favourite punching bag, Ondrej Pavelec.

Ondrej Pavelec has improved his save percentage to .924 after stopping 23 of 24 shots Tuesday, including this shot redirected by the Predators' Colin Wilson.


Ondrej Pavelec has improved his save percentage to .924 after stopping 23 of 24 shots Tuesday, including this shot redirected by the Predators' Colin Wilson.

The underlying trend behind this team's current success is their ever-shrinking goals-against average. After last night's 3-1 win over the Nashville Predators, the Jets have allowed 26 goals in 13 games for a 2.00 goals-against average that ranks seventh in the NHL.

Sustainable success in the NHL is almost always underpinned by strong team defence. Keeping the puck out of the net comes first for winning teams.

The Jets have been unable or unwilling to grasp this concept for long stretches of play in the three previous seasons they've played in Winnipeg. Paul Maurice declared it his priority No. 1 heading into the off-season and so far his message is being heard.

Maurice wanted his team's goals against to improve. It has and the direct correlation has been wins. The Jets have allowed just seven goals in their last seven games and won six of them while collecting points in each one.

They've shot up the standings from last in the Central Division to third and now own a 7-5-1 mark.

Another key statistic for the Jets right now is Pavelec's save percentage, which bumped up to .924 after he stopped 23 of 24 shots Tuesday against the Predators.

The mathematicians state Pavelec can't sustain his current level of play and will eventually regress to a save percentage much closer to the career .906 number he carried into this season.

This theory is based on a formula that says Pavelec's history will predict his future. What isn't accounted for is the possibility of improvement, that a player might actually make changes to his game and get better.

There appear to be upticks to Pavelec's game right now. He's not out of position as often as he has been in the past. He's tracking the puck better and as a result seeing more shots from a solid base and not having to flop around to try to make highlight-reel saves.

Pavelec has been square to the shooter more often than we've seen in the past.

Can this hold up? That's the question of the season for the Winnipeg Jets.

Maurice said Tuesday morning prior to the game with Preds the defensive play in front of Pavelec was helping contribute to his success. The Jets were limiting the opposition's prime scoring opportunities and keeping Pavelec out of improbable-save situations.

From this perspective, though, it's Pavelec's work that has been the largest contributing factor to Winnipeg's improved goals against. Pavelec has been Winnipeg's most consistent player this season. He gave up a bad goal to Nashville's Filip Forsberg on Tuesday but there have been less than a handful of those this season.

Lots of folks wanted Pavelec run out of town this past summer and they may yet be proven correct. But right now, he's the solution and not the problem for the Jets.

The 27-year-old made some fundamental changes this off-season, including a heightened fitness regime that has allowed him to be more physically and mentally focused during games. He's not sagging in games and he's become a much more intense practice player.

Pavelec's detractors say the Jets will never be a playoff team with him as their starter. They've been right so far.

But if Pavelec sustains these kinds of numbers, he and the Jets will prove a lot of people wrong.

Including me. Twitter: @garylawless


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