If there is one thing that will keep Winnipeg Jets fans screaming for more this season, it’s the fact that their beloved team is so wonderfully inconsistent. Great one night, bad for three or four, great for a couple more, bad again. This is not a team like Boston that is going to run off seven wins in a row, but it does, apparently, have enough energy and goaltending to play well in spurts.
Right now, the Jets are in a spurt.
Thursday night, thanks to a remarkable performance by goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, the Jets won their second straight game, a 4-1 drilling of the Washington Capitals. After giving up the first goal, Pavelec was brilliant, making all the big saves at all the right times. In the second period, while the Jets were two-men short (the Jets have been faced with 16 two-man disadvantages in 19 games this season), he made three brilliant saves that, essentially, saved the game.
"All you can ask of your goaltender is to keep you in the game and give you a chance to win," said Jets head coach Claude Noel earlier this season. "When Ondrej is at his best, he does that."
He has certainly done it this week and that’s why the Jets have gone from a 5-2 spanking at the hands of the Florida Panthers right at the MTS Centre and a 2-1 road loss to lowly Columbus, to a pair of convincing wins against good teams: 5-2 over Tampa and 4-1 over Washington.
Evander Kane had a goal and an assist in the 5-2 win and then scored twice in the 4-1 victory so during this stretch of two big wins, two struggling players — Kane and Pavelec — have become team leaders.
A month ago Kane desperately wanted out of Winnipeg. He would openly tell his closest friends that he didn’t like Noel and didn’t like the way he was being treated. When Mike Davidson wrote about it at winnipegsports.ca, the Jets went into denial, but suddenly –without any notoice — Kane was out of the dog house, back on the top line, suddenly getting 18-25 shifts a night and suddenly jumping from 10-13 minutes of ice time per game to 16-19 minutes of ice time. It has paid off. Kane is playing well and he leads the team with eight goals in 18 games (he had only 19 goals all of last season).
Meanwhile, Pavelec had horrible numbers. In fact, there were nights when he was sensational and other nights when you thought you’d hear, "Hi, I’m Ondrej Pavelec. I’m not a real goaltender, I just play one on TV." Heading into this past Monday’s game against Tampa, he was 28th in wins (4), second in losses (7) and first in overtime losses (3). He had a 3.35 goals against average and a wonky .892 save percentage.
For awhile, things didn’t look good for 20-year-old Kane and 24-year-old Pavelec — the so-called future of the Jets.
But while Kane has improved with ice time, so too has the young No. 1 goaltender. Heading into this Saturday’s game with Philadelphia, Pavelec’s save percentage dropped to .900, his goals against average fell to 3.12 and he’s now 20th in wins with six. It’s been a great week and on Saturday afternoon, with the Philadelphia Flyers in town, he could make it perfect.
The last time the Jets and Flyers played, Winnipeg won — 9-to-freakin’-8. Sure would be fun to see that kind of chaos in Winnipeg on a snowy November afternoon.
But who knows what will happen? Nobody can say anything definitive about what the future holds for these former Atlanta Thrashers. This is the most inconsistent team in the NHL. The Jets could win 9-8, lose 9-8 or have Pavelec play the way he has all week and win 1-0. Who really knows?
And that’s another reason why this bunch is so much fun. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, "The Jets are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get."