A young goalie pinned as a bust, a backup who has yet to prove himself, and a former full-time NHLer known best for his untimely injuries. These are the options that the Winnipeg Jets have in net, and it has not been easy to find the piece that solves their goaltending puzzle.
Goalies Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson have led the Jets to a record of 22-23-4. Currently in 22nd place overall, there’s a small point-cushion protecting the Jets from becoming a bottom-feeder. But looming over their heads is the fact that they’ve given up the second-most goals in the league with a total of 150. Searching for a solution, the former starter Ondrej Pavelec was called up after playing 18 games with the Manitoba Moose.
“We’ve got to win hockey games and we’ve got a guy who is feeling confident, feeling strong,” head coach Paul Maurice said to CBC News. “Ondrej is playing well — it’s time for him to get in the net.”
They’re in a bit of a difficult position as well, because we aren’t scoring quite as much to take some of that pressure off of them. … I’m not looking at these two guys saying, ‘They’re not good enough.’ Their play right now isn’t as good as it needs to be, but I believe in them.
–Paul Maurice on Hellebuyck and Hutchinson, via CBC News
The call-up came as a surprise to Hellebuyck, and Pavelec shared that feeling of surprise.
“I think no matter when a player joins, you’re a little surprised,” Hellebuyck explained in a Twitter video posted by the Winnipeg Jets.
“I was happy [to be called up]. I was surprised as well,” Pavelec said to reporters. “I haven’t played with them for [three] months and all of a sudden I get the call.”
There is no bad blood between the goalies, says Hellebuyck, but Pavelec chose not to comment on the situation.
“I think it would be hard to be respectful if I make any comments about how everybody’s playing,” Pavelec said to reporters via the Jets’ official Twitter. “It wouldn’t be fair because I wasn’t here, I was with the Moose so I don’t want to comment on any of it.”
Pavelec chose the classy route, yet this is still undoubtedly a déja vu moment for the Jets; last year, Hellebuyck, Hutchinson and Pavelec split the season into three nearly equal parts and with Pavelec slated to start his third consecutive game Monday night, the situation becomes more complicated.
“Do you understand that the goaltending hasn’t been good enough in the [eyes] of the management, and that’s why they’re recalling Ondrej?” one reporter asked Hellebuyck following practice on Jan. 17.
After a long pause and a grimace, Hellebuyck fired back: “I mean, that’s your opinion.”
Hellebuyck has fallen victim to a sloppy lineup. Yes, of course, the goalie’s job is to stop pucks, but that becomes harder to do with the lack of support up front.
Struggling Team to Blame?
The number of shots for and against per game is especially relevant when talking about goalies. The Jets have more wins when being outshot by an opponent than when they are outshooting them; in fact, the Jets had fewer shots on goal than the opposing team in 28 of their 49 games. This discrepancy is noticeable in shots per game too, where the Jets are in 22nd place.
With a team hanging their goalie out to dry like the Jets have statistically done, the question arises: Is the problem with the goaltending or the team as a whole?
Perhaps a little of both. One game in particular, encapsulated the goaltending troubles. Maurice had some choice words following a lackluster performance against the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 12. Hellebuyck gave up three goals on seven shots, which prompted Maurice to put in Hutchinson…who then allowed four more goals.
“We were horse[crap], right from the drop of the puck until the very end of it,” said Maurice to Yahoo! Sports.
Hellebuyck was on the bench after being pulled prematurely in back-to-back games leading up to Pavelec’s call-up. That’s no coincidence. Still, despite the bumps in the road, Hellebuyck has shown signs of potential.
Even after those past two performances, Hellebuyck’s 0.907 season sv% is still better than Pavelec’s was in 4 of the past 5 seasons here.
— Ryan Blight (@arby_18) January 14, 2017
Pavelec’s Spot Still Tentative
No matter who the starter is, the Jets have issues up front that need to be addressed for there to be measurable success in net. Pavelec did notch two wins in his two starts over this past week, but they weren’t pretty. His GAA of 3.03 is good enough – for now. The high-producing offense, that scored 11 times in the last two games, is unsustainable.
Jets forward Bryan Little remains confident in Pavelec’s abilities despite the uncertainty.
“I’ve played with [Pavelec] a long time and I know what he’s capable of,” Little said to the Winnipeg Sun. “We need him to make big saves for us in tight games. He’s done that the last two games for us and gave us a chance to win. You can’t ask for more from your goalie.”
Emma Miller is a journalist-in-the-making with a passion for all things hockey. She is currently studying Journalism at Ithaca College, where she received the Rod Serling Communications Scholarship for excellence in the field of communications. Before her venture as a Winnipeg Jets contributor for THW, Emma completed several internships with Swimming World Magazine which allowed her to explore her love of on-the-fly sports journalism and live radio broadcasting. She is also proud to have been recognized by the Garden State Scholastic Press Association for Honorable Mention in Sports Writing across all high school journalists in the state of New Jersey. Above all else, Emma wants to convey her love for the sport of hockey through her writing and hopes to gain experience for a possible career in this field. You can follow Emma on Twitter at @emiller04 or shoot her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.