Winnipeg Jets: Is There a Goalie Controversy Brewing in Winnipeg?

Anthony CapocciContributor IMarch 8, 2013

SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 5: Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec #31 of the Winnipeg Jets warms ump prior to the game against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on March 5, 2013 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Of all NHL teams to have a goalie controversy, you’d think Winnipeg be one of the least likely.

Ondrej Pavelec is the Jets starting goaltender. He was also re-signed to a five-year contract in the offseason making him the franchise goaltender. And make no mistake about it, he is this team’s franchise goalie.

So where is the controversy part coming from?

Pavelec hasn’t been all too good this season. He hasn’t been able to make the big save when the Jets need it. He’s been frequently out of position and his glove hand seems to be his weak spot. His numbers this season through 20 games played (19 started) are a 2.93 goals against average and a.897 save percentage.

Sure, we could all blame the Jets’ pylon defense that has been a viable complaint on more than a few occasions, but the “this team has bad defense” excuse gets old very fast.

Pavelec was absolutely fantastic in net last season. He single-handedly won many of the games the Jets should have lost. But when you take a look at the statistics (2.91 GAA, .906 SV%), you’d a thought he had a pretty awful season.

When you look at Pavelec’s career statistics (2.98 GAA, .906 SV%), you probably wonder how he even became a starter in the NHL. His career numbers are mediocre and portray nothing of a starting goaltender or at least not a very good one.

This isn’t a “let’s hate on Pavelec” piece either, but let’s go back in time.  

The Atlanta Thrashers management had to make a vital decision back in 2010. Keep Kari Lehtonen or Pavelec? Obviously, they went with the latter. It was a decision that didn’t necessarily stun me, but it made me scratch my head. By the way, if you’re wondering what the Thrashers got for Lehtonen, a bag of pucks would have been a better return.

Lehtonen was a proven netminder whilst Pavelec was the kid with potential. Pavelec proved nothing at the NHL level when this decision was made. Every time he saw action, he was virtually pulled in the first period. The early years of Pavelec were some of the worst goaltending I’ve ever witnessed.

The final year of the Thrashers existence is when Pavelec had his best season and broke out. That was kind of the point where I jumped on the bandwagon. And last season, Pavelec was spectacular and made a lot of new fans in Winnipeg.

Enough with the history lesson and back to what I was saying about statistics…

Even when Pavelec made fans of many, he didn’t put up groundbreaking numbers. Pavelec’s career statistics are mediocre. And so far this season, Pavelec’s statistics are mediocre. I’m sure you’re wondering how Pavelec can be so “spectacular” but at the same time put up pretty mediocre numbers.

The answer to that is simple and quite obvious: Pavelec’s an extremely inconsistent goaltender.

One game Pavelec will look absolutely phenomenal in net and the next he’ll look like he just learned how to play goalie. Sometimes the inconsistencies last for a stretch of games. There are times when Pavelec is on his game for stretches at a time as well. But the same problem lies, inconsistency.

While Pavelec is struggling this season, Al Montoya is making the most of every limited opportunity.

Montoya is 3-0 this season with a .909 save percentage, a 2.33 goals against average and one shutout. He has played solid in each appearance. Could it be the former sixth-overall draft pick has finally found his game?

Could there indeed be a goalie controversy brewing? Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s something to keep an eye on.

Head coach Claude Noel probably doesn’t think of a goalie controversy brewing at all, which is why Pavelec is being worked as much as he is (and will probably continue being worked as much).

The goalie controversy is twofold as well. It’s not just a direct goalie controversy between Pavelec and Montoya for this season, but also a controversy regarding whether or not Pavelec is the right choice for the next five seasons.

One thing that’s certain is Pavelec has been given the torch a long time ago. Now he has to make the most of it. Pavelec has to silence the critics and start living up to the hype consistently enough to make us believers again.