In a year that many assumed would be a season to forget for the Winnipeg Jets, Winnipeg's hockey team finds themselves in a position to compete for a playoff spot. The main reason for the team’s success is the team’s goaltending. Heading in to the season, the Jets biggest question mark was the team’s goaltending. But over a quarter way through the season, the Jets have been getting goaltending they need from not only Ondrej Pavelec but also 24-year-old goaltender Michael Hutchinson. Hutchinson has played so well that he is starting to challenge Pavelec for starts. By the looks of it, it seems as though a goaltending controversy is about to emerge.
Many thought Michael Hutchinson wasn't ready for the NHL stage. It wasn't too long ago that Hutchinson was centre stage at the ECHL level. He has made a quick assent, quickly climbing into the AHL and NHL with a load of success each step of the way. Still, he wasn't expected to be a major factor in the bigs. The thought was that he'd be on the Jets roster seemed to be so that he could learn the ropes from Ondrej Pavelec, mostly by sitting and watching. Eight games in to his first full pro season, it appears Hutchinson has learned the ropes quite quickly.
Hutchinson appears to be gaining more and more trust from coach Paul Maurice. The team gave him the nod last game against the Boston Bruins, after a convincing victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
"He was spectacular." Said Coach Paul Maurice. "To be honest with you, it’s pretty much the only game we’ve seen of him going back to the end of last year. He looks the same every night. There is a lot of traffic, he fights through it, he controls the rebounds, he likes to play the puck. Just outstanding. We needed that tonight."
Hutchinson was drafted 77th overall by the Bruins in 2008 and left a lasting impression on his former club with his performance. Through 8 games, Hutchinson possesses a 4-1-2 record. Hutchinson leads the league in save percentage and goals against average with a .947 SV% and a 1.56 GAA.
Since being pulled on October 12th in a game against the Los Angeles Kings, Hutchinson has certainly made a case to be considered Jets best goaltender this season. Hutchinson has played well, but he has only played in 28% of the team’s games and there is an easy case that is too small of a sample size too deem Hutchinson the teams best goaltender thus far, but he is doing his best to make a case.
Whether Hutchinson splits time with Pavelec for the remainder of the season or not, it certainly seems as though he will serve as a much more reliable back up than many originally anticipated. Winnipeg Free Press columnist Ed Tait wrote an article, 10 games in to the Jets season, suggesting Pavelec could start 70+ games. It wasn’t just Tait who questioned what Hutchinson could bring as the Jets backup. Before the season started, Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff acquired goaltender Peter Budaj from the Montreal Canadians to give the organization more depth at the goaltending position just incase Hutchinson was not ready.
After a stellar November, Hutchinson finds himself competing with Pavelec for starts in the crease, night in and night out.
Maybe the best thing for Ondrej Pavelec is for him too play less games. Whether you're Ondrej Pavelec, Tuukka Rask, Henrik Lundqvist or Carey Price, you can’t start every night. Over the last three seasons, the Jets have counted on Pavelec to play the majority of the team’s games. When former backup goaltender Al Montoya would win games, the Jets would more often than not turn back to Pavelec. Pavelec has struggled a lot during his tenure with the Winnipeg Jets. Maybe that could be due in part due to a lessened workload. His poor numbers may or may not have been linked to the number of games he's played, but fatigue may have played a part in it.
So far this season, Pavelec has posted an 8-8-2 record, along with a .919 SV% and a 2.33 GAA .Those are strong, if not spectacular numbers, and Pavelec has definitely shown improvement. Even still, I’m not 100% convinced that he is the Jets number one goalie.
Hutchinson brings a different energy to the Jets. He has fantastic lateral moment, he is good with the puck and he has gradually improved his rebound control. The team feeds off him and seems to play better when he is in net.
Pavelec can win games for the Jets, but it shouldn't be set in stone that he will be winning games in the starters capacity. If Hutchinson earns more time, give it to him. A Hutch / Pavelec time share is far from a worst case scenario. It eliminates the need to push anyone on back to back nights and healthy competition will surely motivate the duo.
Perhaps Pavelec isn't a lock as the Jets starter anymore. Perhaps he is fighting Hutchinson for his job. This kind of competition will make the two goalies better. Whether one of the two emerges as the teams starter or not, having the two goalies compete with each other will only make them better.
Who says the Jets can't ride both goalies for the remainder of the year? Why not? That’s not to say one of the two goalies can't emerge and steal the starters job, but as of now it appears the two are capable of competing for starts. A healthy competition can only be a good thing for the Jets they get to roll with the hot hand and in theory this could enhance the play of both of the tenders.
Of course it is entirely possible that neither Jets' goalie dominates down the stretch, but right now it appears the Jets have a better goalie situation than they have at any other point since their return. It also appears, there is a goaltending controversy brewing in Winnipeg.