Ondrej Pavelec has skills. Yes, he does. He is athletic and has quick reflexes. Yes, he does. These words surprise me too, really. Check my Twitter timeline to see how I truly feel about the Winnipeg Jets "#1" goalie and you’ll see why the first few sentences were unlikely to have ever been typed by yours truly. I mean, I have described some of Pav’s performances as horrendous, pathetic, and downright embarrassing. I have even explained how good he must be at dodgeball...being able to consistently avoid getting hit by pucks all of the time. But, after analyzing his play over several seasons, I can’t help but answer the question in the title with a big fat "yes"! However, that doesn’t mean that I believe Pavelec will ultimately succeed in the Jets net. No, despite him being good enough, there are major deficiencies in his game that will likely prevent him from ever becoming a bonafide NHL-calibre #1 goaltender.
Many Jets fans will likely disagree here with me here (put down your pitchforks, please), but I truly believe that Pavelec has the ability to take the Jets to the next level....BUT in my humble opinion, there are 3 reasons why he hasn’t been able to garner "elite" goaltender status. Each one will be explained below. First of all, the timing of goals against always seems to hurt him and the Jets. Second, his compete level often leaves much more to be desired. And finally, I ask you this: how many games has he actually stolen for the Jets in his time here? I think you could probably count them on one hand. In my expert (NOT) opinion, these 3 things cost Pavelec and the Jets on too many nights for him to ever be deemed an "elite" goaltender.
Bad Timing of Goals Against
Sometimes your goalie just needs to shut the door. It’s not fair, really, but all goalies (myself included) understand the responsibility they carry. One thing that often costs Pavelec is the timing of the goals he allows. It’s not always a bad goal, and it is certainly not always his fault, but the poor timing of the goals that seem to regularly go in against Pavelec always seem to cost the Jets dearly. Goals are scored late in periods and even late in games...does anyone remember Jackman’s goal in St. Louis? Oops. It seems like the Jets often need a 5 minute warm-up, even after the period starts, and this where Pavelec needs to shut the door...but too many times he doesn’t. Whether the entire team is at fault or not, that does not matter here, elite goalies find a way to put up a brick wall and bail their team out at key times in games. I can’t say that Pavelec does this very often.
Inconsistent Level of Compete/Level of Battle
It doesn’t have to be pretty. Just stop the puck. Remember Dominik Hasek? Remember Martin Brodeur? They stopped a few pucks along the way, right? Was it always pretty? No, but they battled. And they won. So did Tim Thomas. They constantly fought to get hit by the puck. They did whatever it took to get in the way of the puck. What I see Pavelec doing most of the time, is getting set and then attempting to make a save based on his angles, positioning, and reflexes. All of that makes sense in today’s game, but what he doesn’t do enough of is battle for second chances or make adjustments off of deflections and/or rebounds. He just doesn’t battle around the net as much as other elite goalies.. Think back to last season: Did you ever see Carey Price give up on a puck? What about Pav? Exactly.
Now, this is not to say that Pavelec is physically incapable of battling around the net. During his hot streak this season, after watching Michael Hutchinson (now there’s a guy who battles on every play) steal the net from him, Pavelec came back with quite a few excellent performances, where he battled on every single play...and he was successful…and the Jets won games. Elite goaltenders simply refuse to be beaten and absolutely hate getting scored on. I am not sure I can say that about Pavelec.
Stealing games? Rarely.
Yes he has stolen a few games along the way. Again, I actually think Pavelec could be good enough...but he just hasn’t flat out stolen enough important games over the years to lead the Jets to the promised land. This one is related to the ‘timing’ example explained above. Some of Pavelec’s best performances came when the Jets were cruising and up 2 or 3 goals early in the game. He has managed to keep some games out of reach with some amazing saves, but it’s the very close games where the Jets need him to step up the most. I find it frustrating to watch him play so well in some games (when the Jets don’t really need it) and then give up 1 or 2 late goals against Central Division opponents when the Jets are really pushing for the win. I am not sure there is an actual statistic for stealing games by a goaltender (it would be quite subjective, I imagine) but I can’t say that I remember more than 5 games in the last 4 seasons where Pavelec single-handedly won the game for the Jets. Elite goaltenders find a way to steal games on a regular basis for their teams. I know I can’t say that about Pavelec at this point.
Please notice that all of the above is merely my version of what is lacking from Pavelec’s game. I didn’t list any statistics, as these are just my observations. Many Jets fans seem frustrated (there are other words I could’ve used here) with Pavelec’s inconsistent play over the years, but I don’t think that a lack of talent is the reason for his uneven play. As I said at the beginning of this long-winded piece, Pavelec is probably good enough to succeed, if he can eliminate some of the little glitches in his game. With a promising crop of young goalie prospects ready to steal his crease, what Pav should be most concerned about is how much time he has to fix these blemishes...tick-tock, Mr. Pavelec.