Hockey Headlines

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

A Team They Should Beat

Yes, he's back. I had the privilege of being on CBC's Up To Speed with Ismaila Alfa Tuesday afternoon to talk about the Winnipeg Jets recalling Ondrej Pavelec amidst their current goaltending woes, and he started tonight against the Arizona Coyotes, also known as the NHL's second-worst team. It might be a good jumping-off point for Pavelec's return to the NHL since the Coyotes basically ice an AHL team as it is right now, but all eyes at MTS Centre and across Winnipeg were on the player in the blue paint as the game between the Coyotes and Jets got underway shortly after 6:30pm CT.

The first shot came at 2:49 off the stick of noted sniper Josh Jooris as he wired a wrist shot inside the far post past Pavelec. A collective silence fell over the crowd as I'm guessing a lot of fans had the thought of "here we go again" creep into their minds. One shot against, one goal against, zero saves made. Would we see similar results to what had happened in the last four games with the Jets falling behind?

Bryan Little redirected a Josh Morrissey shot past Mike Smith less than a minute later, but Oliver Ekman-Larsson would put the Coyotes back on top with his goal on a five-on-three man-advantage. Through one period of play, the Jets trailed, but didn't play poorly despite trailing on the scoreboard 2-1 and in shots 12-8. Having lost to Arizona a couple of weeks ago by a 4-1 score, the Jets needed a big second period to get themselves going.

Blake Wheeler and Andrew Copp scored 1:39 apart early in the middle frame, and Joel Armia made it a 4-2 game with his redirection through Smith's five-hole at 12:49. And then Ondrej Pavelec decided to hit the highlight reels across the continent.
I guess if one has been out of the public's eye for some time, one needs to make a big splash to be noticed again. That's a helluva splash if one was ever going to make a splash, but the save off Vrbata was called "lucky" by the netminder as he spoke to reporters.

"It was kind of my fault, I couldn't hold the rebound," Pavelec told the scrum post-game. "Lucky save. It's nice to have that save, that's for sure. It feels really good. But we were up already 4-2 and it just [was a] lucky save."

Head coach Paul Maurice had a much broader assessment of Pavelec's night.

"What was good about his game was just build through it," Maurice told reporters. "There would be some nerves in that first part and he built and got stronger. Then he pulls the one out only a really talented man can do. I'm really happy for him, really happy for him. Going to the minors at his point in his career is a humbling thing and he figured out how to handle it right, get himself ready to get back up here."

Before we starting handing him the Vezina Trophy and nominating him for the Hart Trophy, let's remember that Ondrej Pavelec is 1-0-0. He backstopped the Jets to a win over the 29th-place team in the NHL in a game the Jets had to win. The real test will come in the next few games as the Jets welcome the Blues, Ducks, and Sharks to MTS Centre. If Pavelec can go 3-1-0 or - dare I say it - 4-0-0 in those games, the Jets may have a reason to keep the veteran around for the entire 10-game audition or 30 days of service. But let's be very clear about this: Connor Hellebuyck is the guy going forward without any doubt in the franchise's mind.

Credit to Ondrej Pavelec for coming into a situation where a bad game would have had the masses with torches and pitchforks at the doors of MTS Centre. He played well enough to snap the four-game losing streak, he played well enough to have the Jets take another look at him on Saturday against the Blues, and he played well enough for him to stick around a while longer. His games right now are essentially an audition for a different club next season, so it's in his best interest to play well.

Can the Jets take advantage of that?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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