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How different was Ondrej Pavelec?

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This season we saw Pavelec's best year as an NHL goaltender. What did he do differently on the ice from the past?

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Another Winnipeg Jets season has come and gone, and another chapter has been written in the book of Ondrej Pavelec. This year will likely go down as the strangest in the epic drama that is Winnipeg goaltending, as we saw Pavelec go form starter to backup, from backup to villain, from villain to starter, and from starter to local folk hero all in the span of a few months. Despite the drastic ups and downs that could compete with only the tallest of mountains and deepest of valleys, Ondrej Pavelec posted some the best numbers of his career since his days back in the QMJHL and while the die-hard Pavelec supporters are quick to claim "I told you so", others still are far from convinced that the controversial netminder is a changed man.

While his future abilities and questions of sustainability will continue to be valid and brought up, something changed this season that led to his sudden breakthrough performance. Was it his apparent increased focus on fitness (finally at age 27)? Did Pavelec finally reach that untapped "potential" we have all been hearing about for years on end? Was it the reduced workload? Or was it maybe the true threat to his job coming via Michael Hutchinson? Those are factors that I, not anyone else for that matter, will ever know for sure. What we can figure out though are the aspects of his performance that may have changed this year. The factors that may have led to improved performance, and that may hint to us whether or not these numbers can be repeated, or if Pavelec still plays a style of goaltending that will lead to failure in the future.

Therefore, just like I did last season, I will take a look at the situation, reason, and location of each goal scored on Ondrej Pavelec this year to se where things may have changed.

The Basics

Pavelec Season

Games Played

Shots Faced

Goals Against

Saves

Save Percentage

2013-14

57

1644

163

1481

.901

2014-15

50

1353

108

1245

.920

As I said before, this season was Pavelec's best statistical season since his 2005-06 year with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the QMJHL, where he posted a .929 save percentage in 47 games. He finished the season light years ahead of his career average of .908, which indicates that there is a very good chance that Pavelec will regress to his regular form next season.

A lot of emphasis was placed on Pavelec's "reduced workload" this year as a reason for his success and I think there is evidence here to back it up. He appeared in seven less games this season from last and while that might not sound like a lot, that constitutes about 8.5% of a season. Overall he faced almost 300 less shots this year which adds up to about 1 less shot against per game played which likely added into the improved numbers somewhere along the way, but I'm not sure if it's really a 19-point swing in save percentage kind of improvement.

Regardless, Pavelec's improvements were something that many said needed to happen if the Jets wanted to ever have a shot at the playoffs. They did, and look what happened.

Situations

There is little to no doubt in many people's minds that an "improved focus on defense" was a major factor in the Jets turnaround this season. A pretty strong argument could be made for that as well. Could this be why the Pavelec looked so strong this year? Was there really a case for the "team in front of him" dragging down his numbers so strongly in the past?

*These numbers are all even strength rates*

Well, that's interesting. Pavelec actually ended up surrendering a higher percentage of goals this season as a result of odd-man rushes and turnovers in the Jets zone this year than he did last. While this does indicate that the Jets reduced their totals due to being hemmed in their zone or on average entry plays, it does likely mean that they were turning the puck over more at poor times, and that they were giving up a good chunk more breakaways and successful odd man rush attempts.

Without context it is a little difficult to draw strong conclusions from these results, as a plethora of underlying factors could play into the results. But what about the reasons why these goals went in? That should give us a bit of a better understanding of how goals were scored, and what Pavelec may have done to change himself this season.

Reasons

Quite similar to last year's results, Pavelec continued his regular positioning and rebound control issues throughout this season. These are aspects of his game that have always been an issue and that he has yet to properly address. He was much worse in those aspects of his game than Al Montoya last year, and he was much worse than Michael Hutchinson in them this year. It is for these reasons that I am really not sure if Pavelec will be able to replicate his numbers from this year once again. He gives up too many easy goals by being in the wrong place, and even more due to his inability to freeze a puck.

That being said, I think his saving grace this year is pretty darn clear. Pavelec was able to drastically reduce the percentage of goals he allowed that really shouldn't have gone in. In other words, he wasn't directly at fault for nearly as many goals this year as he was last. It has been well documented in the past that Pavelec is very much an unpredictable goaltender. On any given night he could be the goat or the G.O.A.T., and more often than not he was the former. Not so much this year though. This season we saw more games like his 40 save performance in Dallas, or his three straight shutouts to close the year than we did events like the center ice goal in St. Louis.  What led to this improvement I do not know, but it was one that ultimately resulted in the numbers he finished the year with.

Locations

Pavelec has historically followed the trend of many other goaltenders in the league where goals need to go up high for them to be beat, while his major downfall has been his tendency to give up a very high percentage of open net goals against.

This season we saw much of the same. In fact, Pavelec was even able to reduce the number of goals that beat him down low this season (likely due to his increased speed and fitness). Yet we are still seeing him struggle when it comes to staying in proper position and giving himself a chance at every puck. Again, it is for reasons like these that I don't see Pavelec able to maintain the number he ultimately put up this season. He simply can't give up upwards of 20% of the goals against him without even having a chance at stopping them. This season it led to a total of 21 goals against the Jets. Those kinds of numbers kill a team.

Conclusion

Ondrej Pavelec had what will likely be the best season of his NHL career this year. He finished well above league average in save percentage, cut down the number of bad goals he allowed by a large margin, and ultimately was a large factor in the Jets making the playoffs.

Yet I still wonder if he's ever going to be able to repeat it. We are still seeing some glaring issues in his ability to stay in position and limit his rebounds, and those factors are going to cost him.  With Hutchinson, Comrie and Hellebuyck all pushing for a future in the NHL he needs to change them fast, because the competition is only getting stronger.