Ondrej Pavelec’s poor play is actually his best asset

At this point, the Winnipeg Jets may be finished with Ondrej Pavelec. 

He’s out for a week with a lower body injury, at the very least (raise your hand if you’ve heard this story before). 

That gives heir apparent Connor Hellebuyck the next week to show that he’s gotten his head back on straight and he’s ready to finish out the year as the team’s number one. 

If he continues to struggle at all, though – and with the way the Jets play, that’s a given on any night – Winnipeg fans could be looking at more Pavs down the line. 

Some think this is a good idea. More think it’s taking a step backwards (which, in all reality, it is). 

When Pavelec has a great game, though, it’s hard to remember exactly why he struggles so often. So let’s talk about why that’s the case. 

The answer is present in his clutch games as much as it is in his poor outings. 

Take a look at this save: 

Timely save, eh?

Pavelec rotates away from the puck, despite it never changing course to move in the direction he starts to push. 

He has to scramble back, making for a last-minute *wow* effect save – but adds extra work for himself, tiring his body more than it should have been and producing a *clutch* save that really wasn’t so clutch after all. If he had allowed that goal, it would have been a giant blooper. 

Pavelec isn’t one of the NHL’s most technically sound goaltenders. We know this. 

Far from it; he’s got an erratic style and unpredictable nature that comes as much from a lack of reliance on tracking as it does from his positioning. Take a look back at that timely save; while he’s moving away from the puck (positioning, hey!) he’s also not continuing to look at it. He has to snap back both visually and positionally to make that stop, because he wasn’t fundamentally sound to begin with. 

Here’s another save to look at: 

Here, Pavelec starts by tracking the puck (although I would criticize from atop my 500-foot horse that his ‘decision-making zone is too deep, allowing for too much space. But that’s another problem for another day), something he didn’t do on the first save we looked at. 

The problem here was that he got left behind when the puck was moved across Royal Road. 

Take a look again; the delay between Pavelec having a visual on the puck on the first stick and on the second stick is actually noticeable. That’s a problem. 

He commits to an over-lean, having to scramble back. He makes the save, and it’s so clutch! So timely! 

As other JetsNation writers have pointed out, though, that’s not a sign that he’s good at anything but recovering from his own mistakes. It’s taking him, in essence, six steps to get from point A to point B, where it would be taking Hellebuyck two. 

This, of course, is why Pavelec causes so much heartache among Jets fans. We’ve taken a look at two saves, and he’s been both positionally and visually off on both. Those aren’t an anomaly; that’s just how he plays hockey. 

While that’s a huge pain, though, it actually may be helping him, as well. 

When shooters face Carey Price, Cory Schneider, Connor Hellebuyck, or Braden Holtby, they can – if they train hard enough – learn how to anticipate movements. 

Joe Pavelski talked about this a few years back. He mentioned spending hours on the ice, trying to learn how a goaltender moves in response to his movements. Those reactions are ingrained, and – in theory – a shooter can develop the mental skills to anticipate the movements and surprise the goaltender. Not many shooters actively do this, but it’s something that’s possible for any skater to do. 

With Pavelec – well, they can’t do that. 

A shooter can’t trick out Pavelec because they just never know what they’re doing to get. Sometimes, that burns him – they head right and he rotates left. 

Other times, though, they head right and he rotates left, then he flies back across the net at the last second and blocks their shot. They have no idea how to anticipate this, because he doesn’t give any clues. His unpredictability, in a sense, is their biggest enemy. 

This isn’t an endorsement for that style of play, of course. I can’t stand pure reactionary goaltending. I like being able to follow a goaltender’s mask straight to the puck; I think there’s beauty in perfection. 

When a team needs something to shake them up, though, this is why Pavelec gets that done. 

  • Brock Landers

    The concept that a non-playoff team with close to no chance to make it (3%?) would continue to play a terrible UFA goalie over players who will remain with the team in the future in mind-boggling. If Pavelec does indeed return and get most starts over Helle then Chevy is absolutely 100% confirmed to be a terrible GM. It just makes no sense with where this team is at now. Hell, I’d rather see Hutch start every game for the Jets for the rest of the season than see Pavelec anywhere close to be the Jets’ “starter” ever again.