Ondrej Pavelec wants to make all the saves

Over the last five games or so, Ondrej Pavelec has been the best Jet, stealing a couple of wins in Florida and on Long Island and has really impressed casual on-lookers with his style of save-making.

If you haven’t listened to our own Scott Taylor discuss Pavelec on Nation Radio this week, please, take the time to do so, because he has some good remarks about Pavelec’s style. Not quite classic butterfly, to paraphrase, and more of a hybrid style like Martin Brodeur.

The more unorthodox he plays, the better he seems to do. He swims in that crease with no lifeguard on duty, and it’s just been real fun to watch him play for the last while.

I’m not really here to discuss his style though, I’m here to discuss whether or not his style has him making saves or not. Now, I think we can all agree that the worst goal-tended game of the season for goalies on both sides was the 9-8 barnburner in Philadelphia on October 27. The two starting goaltenders, Ilya Bryzgalov and Pavelec, combined for a .792 save percentage and, while Pavelec actually made 36 stops that night, it was a game that Bryzgalov described his play as being “lost in the woods”.

What’s interesting to note is that, since then, Bryzgalov has now made three consecutive quality starts, while Pavelec has gone four-in-five. I’m sure there’s a lot of compelling narrative to write about whether or not that game settled down both goalies and they just went back to basics, but I’m sure it’s coincidence more than anything. Since that game, Pavelec has a quality start in every game but the one against New Jersey (a quality start is defined by Hockey Prospectus as a game wherein a goalie stops 91.3% of the shots, or 88.5% of shots in games where he’s allowed two or fewer goals) and has a .943 save percentage, a 1.79 goals against average, and a .951 save percentage at even strength.

The problem with evaluating Pavelec’s play based on an arbitrary unit of time (during a certain streak) is the selection bias will inflate Pavelec’s statistics. We have little context, based on us not having watched Atlanta play night-in and night-out last season to know the qualities of his goaltending. When Roberto Luongo gets off to a rough beginning in Vancouver, you can start to think “oh, well I know he’s better than this” but we don’t have that frame of reference for Pavelec since we’ve only watched him twelve times, unless you are a fan who has followed the team since their days as the Thrashers.

Regarldess, here is what Pavelec has done in each of his starts:

  Sv% EV SV% GA Q/S
@ NY Rangers 0.923 0.938 2 Yes
@ New Jersey 0.893 0.864 3 No
@ NY Islanders 1.000 1.000 0 Yes
@ Florida 0.929 0.938 3 Yes
@ Tampa Bay 0.963 1.000 1 Yes
@ Philadelphia 0.837 0.813 7 No
vs. Carolina 0.600 0.600 2 No
@ Ottawa 0.897 0.889 3 No
@ Toronto 0.870 0.944 3 No
vs. Pittsburgh 0.966 0.962 1 Yes
@ Chicago 0.875 0.885 4 No
vs. Montreal 0.773 0.765 5 No

You can see that, until the Philly game, Pavelec recorded just a single quality start against Pittsburgh. So, Pavelec’s “four quality starts in his last five” in laymans terms means “he’s played really well since the Philadelphia game.” It also really means “four out his last [insert number more than five] games, Pavelec has played well.” That save percentage drops with every game you look back, save one. He had a 48.1% quality start percentage last season, which was fifth-worst in the NHL among goalies with at least 30 starts. We can spin that around and also argue:

“Well, hey, he should have had a quality start against Toronto, but didn’t because the penalty kill let him down” which would also be true. We can also assume that, due to Atlanta’s bad penalty-killing last year, that that may have deflated Pavelec’s numbers. Without game-by-game even strength save percentage (which is time-consuming to find) or any comparable goalies with similar statistics, we don’t expressly know how well Pavelec played last season.

So, the Jets penalty kill seems to have settled after a rough beginning and Pavelec’s numbers have improved, but which is the cart and which is the horse? That may take a couple of more weeks to find out, or a few more Chris Mason starts.

Pavelec has done an admirable job keeping Winnipeg in certain games, but for the most part, it looks as if the better goaltending has been at the other end of the ice. I don’t think Pavelec is necessarily losing the Jets any games, but I think a recent hot streak may have us thinking that he has the ability to steal more hockey games than he has the ability to.