Friday, 12 February 2016

Turning To Pavelec

It's been coming for weeks in Winnipeg. There have been updates on Ondrej Pavelec's injury status every day - he's skating, he's wearing equipment, he's facing pucks - so that fans can be ready for the netminder's return. The three-goal logjam in the Winnipeg crease meant that someone had to go, and the Jets used the one player on a two-way contract to solve that problem as Connor Hellebuyck went back to the Moose where it's expected he'll platoon with the improving Eric Comrie. As good as Hellebuyck has been, his game has dipped a little as of late, having been pulled early in the last two of three, so the Jets turn back to their original starter as Pavelec will be given the reins once more.

Of course, the jury will be out with flaming torches and axes if Pavelec suddenly goes on a ridiculous winning streak after it appeared that the Jets would challenge for supremacy in the Auston Matthews sweepstakes, so let's do something we haven't done for Pavelec in the past: cut him some slack.

The Jets sit eight points out of a playoff spot right now. I'm not saying that gap isn't insurmountable, but there are a lot of things that need to go Winnipeg's way if they hope to close that chasm. The Jets will need to go on a crazy run at some point over the final 30-or-so games in order to get back into the wild card discussion, and you might remember that Pavelec was the goaltender of record in helping the Jets make the playoffs last season.

However, this Jets team doesn't appear to have the same want as last year. Asking Pavelec to put the team on his back is something that has never been asked of him, and it wouldn't be fair to do so now. He'll never be mistaken for Carey Price or Henrik Lundqvist, so asking Ondrej Pavelec to play light years above his statistical averages will only result in disappointment.

So let's cut him some slack.

Pavelec will start against Edmonton tomorrow night, and this is a good place for the netminder to get his feet wet. Yes, there's some offensive talent in Edmonton, but the Oilers sit below the Jets in the standings. Pavelec will get to face a team that has played well in recent weeks, but the veteran will need to use this game to get his timing back when facing NHL shots.

If the Jets roll into Edmonton and lose, fans may grumble, but the Jets will be one step closer to a top-three pick. If Pavelec puts up a wall against the Oilers, fans will shrug and say, "It's just the Oilers." Either way, Pavelec gets to play a full NHL game with very little pressure and can work on getting back to a good place where he might be able to help the Jets make a push. If the Jets lose, they're close to drafting in the top-five than ever before and there are some pretty good players at the top-end of this year's draft.

At the end of the day, however, Pavelec's performance on Saturday should not indict him for where the Jets are in the standings this season. He's joining a team that's largely underachieved this season while he's been out of the lineup, so asking him to save this season is entirely unfair. I don't think anyone expects him to do that, but there may still be a few who feel that Pavelec will deserve some blame for where the Jets end up.

If he comes in and plays well, the Jets could make things interesting. If he comes in and gets shelled, it doesn't hurt the efforts in getting a top-three pick in this year's NHL Entry Draft. Honestly, this is the best situation that Pavelec could return to after many had anointed Connor Hellebuyck the starter for the rest of the season.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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