WINNIPEG – After a quick load of laundry, the Winnipeg Jets are heading back out on the road for a four-game set beginning tomorrow against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.
That much we know. What isn’t clear is who will be starting in goal, with today’s announcement that Connor Hellebuyck has been re-assigned to the Manitoba Moose, and that Ondrej Pavelec has been activated off injured reserve.
Head Coach Paul Maurice will confirm the starter – either Pavelec or Michael Hutchinson, who’s coming off a tidy, 25-save effort in relief last night – tomorrow in Edmonton.
“Somewhere in the next two or three games, both Pavelec and Hutchinson will get games and then we’ll make decisions about where we are going forward after that,” Maurice said.
The Jets have been practicing with three goalies for some time now. With Pavelec finally healthy, it was time to make a move, with things like contracts and waiver eligibility coming into play. There was talk about potentially sending Pavelec to the Moose on a conditioning stint, but everyone involved felt this was the best course of action.
“With three goaltenders, it’s very difficult to keep any of the three sharp,” Maurice said. “I know that both Pav and Hutch will get games and they’ll have their own net to stay sharp.
Hellebuyck appeared in 26 games with the Jets, posting a 13-11-1 record, along with a 2.34 goals-against average and .918 save percentage with one shutout.
“He’s done a great job,” Maurice said. “We think he’ll make that leap and really become that goaltender that will compete in the future to be our No. 1 guy – and I won’t put a limit on when that is. He’s not that far off. He’s played well, his personality, his work ethic is really good; we know he’s going to get better… He needs to be in net the entire time to continue that development. But now we know so much more about him than we did at the start of the season. I’m a lot more
comfortable going forward with a good idea of how he is and how he fits.”
Pavelec, meanwhile, has been sidelined with a knee injury for the past three months after being forced out a Nov. 21 game against the Arizona Coyotes when the visiting captain, and original Jet, Shane Doan, slammed into him at full speed.
Pavelec finished the remaining four-and-a-half minutes of the second period, but was unable to continue following the intermission.
“There’s a challenge to it,” Maurice said. “He’s been out a while, but that’s why you design the drills the way you do. He’s really been strong and (Goaltending Coach) Wade (Flaherty) has come in after the last four or five practices and has said, ‘He’s right, there. He’s ready, he’s getting close.’”
The 28-year-old, who says he “feels great,” has a 5-6-1 record in 15 appearances, with his last win coming Nov. 18 against Vancouver.
“When he went down he was playing real well,” Drew Stafford said. “You’ve got to give Hutch and Helle a lot of credit for coming in and playing some great games for us, but to have Pav back, that’s a big boost for us.”
Since returning from an injury that kept him out of the lineup for more than three months, McDavid has been on fire, recording four goals and 12 points in only six games. The 2015 first overall pick is coming off a career-high five-point effort in a 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday,
helping Jordan Eberle collect his first-career hat trick in the process.
“Talk about the complete package,” Maurice said of the rookie. “That blinding speed with those hands. … He could play without a salary and if he just got paid by the number of reruns on the highlight reels, he’d make a whole lot more money.”
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com