Every time the Winnipeg Jets seem down and out in a game, they somehow change things around and pull out the victory. At least, more often than not.
That never-say-die attitude the Jets have adopted this year is a big reason why the team is in the middle of a tight race in the Central division, and has a comfortable lead in the battle for the Western Conference Wild Card spots. However, it’s not just the attitude of the players that has the Jets in prime position for their first playoff appearance since the team returned to the league in 2011.
The play of the team’s goaltenders has been quite better than many expected entering the year.
Seasoned veteran Ondrej Pavelec and rookie Michael Hutchinson have backstopped the Jets to some victories that the team had no business having. Big saves at key opportunities has given Winnipeg the momentum and confidence needed to pull out some clutch victories.
As the season gets to the unofficial halfway point of the All-Star break, it’s starting to get to the point where head coach Paul Maurice may need to make a decision on which goaltender will be the main man down the stretch and, potentially, into the postseason.
At the start of the year, it was all about Pavelec in net for the Jets. And why shouldn’t it have been? After all, the team really didn’t know what it had in Hutchinson, and Pavelec was the best option for a team with questions at the position.
Now, 47 games into the season, Maurice and his staff should have a good idea about what each goaltender brings to the team. Both goaltenders have a sub 2.50 goals against average with save percentages above .910.
When it comes to making a case for Pavelec, the biggest argument is his experience. The experience of a veteran is something you can’t replace when it comes to a goaltender, and Pavelec is a player that has pretty much seen it all when it comes to playing in the crease.
The players in front of them may feel a sense of comfort with him in net, knowing that he’s a goaltender who has, for a lack of a better term, been there, done that. That being said, he may have been around a while and has that veteran experience, but Pavelec would be in the same boat as Hutchinson when it comes to playing the playoffs.
Pavelec didn’t join the organization until the season following the team’s first and only entry into the playoffs as the Atlanta Thrashers in 2007. So, when it comes to that experience, Pavelec is greener than green. Also, he does have a history of letting in some pretty soft goals.
In the corner of Hutchinson, the rookie of the year candidate could very well become a frontrunner for the award if he’s given the ball and runs with it from here on out. He’s appeared in 20 games this year, starting 18 of them, and has posted a highly impressive 13-4-2 record with a goals against average of 2.00 and a .932 save percentage.
He’s played in 10 less games and faced nearly 300 less shots than Pavelec, which that could give him the bigger advantage in the long run. Team’s still don’t seem to know how to play against Hutchinson when he’s in net. That, along with his obvious talent, allows the Jets to play more aggressive while staying loose and calm on the ice. They seem to know that, should they goof up, Hutchinson is a goaltender that can bail them out.
Obviously, it’s not expected that Hutchinson will keep up these numbers throughout the remainder of the season, especially should he be given more starts. But a 20-game run is enough of a sample size to know what the Jets will get out of him for at least the rest of the season.
Winnipeg is a team that is, to many, overachieving this season thanks to not only the goaltending, but the way the forwards are moving the puck and spreading the wealth as well as the play of the defense.
Nevertheless, goaltending is the primary reason the Jets currently sit atop the Western Conference Wild Card standings. And sure, Pavelec may be the higher paid of the two netminders, but, when it’s all said and done, the one who gives the team the best chance to win will be the one who gets the green light to backstop the Jets to the playoffs.
Then again, Maurice could just continue to go with the method that brought the Jets to the dance in the first place.
Michael is a former Managing Editor for The Hockey Writers. He’s covered the Buffalo Sabres, along with the NHL in general, for various outlets since 2009. His work has been featured on outlets such as Yahoo, Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports.