WINNIPEG -- A hockey rink may be 200 feet by 85 feet. But the Winnipeg Jets got some news that will change how the roster looks in an 8 by 6 section of it: their own goal crease.
Head coach Paul Maurice announced Ondrej Pavelec’s injury, sustained in Saturday’s 3-2 win over Arizona, will keep the 28-year-old out of the crease, and the line-up, until January or February.
“The window of recovery on these is harder to pin down on goaltenders than it is on skaters,” said Maurice of Pavelec’s “significant” knee sprain. “It’s a wider window because it’s a goaltender. He’s not getting back in an NHL net until he’s 100 percent.”
With Pavelec injured and only 12 forwards on the roster, the Jets made a pair of roster moves leading up to tonight’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. Connor Hellebuyck was called up yesterday to fill the vacant goaltending spot (with Pavelec placed on injured reserve), and forward Joel Armia was recalled from the Manitoba Moose prior to the Jets morning skate today.
While the Jets will miss Pavelec’s experience in the net, Maurice was quick to say his team is still in a good position.
“Michael Hutchinson played outside the back up role in big games in a higher volume than you would see in a lot of back ups. So he has experience, and we have a high expectation of play. We also have depth in Connor Hellebuyck,” said Maurice. “Connor is a guy who has followed along, in a lot of ways, Michael Hutchinson’s program. He had a great year in the American Hockey League, was outstanding at the World Championships, had a very good training camp. That was a guy we wanted to see.”
And see him, they will. “Sooner than later,” as Maurice said.
But regardless of who is in net, defenceman Adam Pardy says Winnipeg’s focus will always be on playing well defensively. That doesn’t change whether Hutchinson or Hellebuyck is between the pipes.
“We’re back to playing the style that we want to play. We had a little slide there. I don’t know that we got away from things, but I think now in the last three, we’re putting a product on the ice we’re happy with,” said Pardy. “We feel that’s the way we need to play to win games.”
The Jets have won back-to-back games coming into tonight’s game against Colorado, who will be wrapping up a seven-game road trip tonight. Forward Blake Wheeler, who is tied with Colorado’s Nathan McKinnon for 10th in the NHL point scoring race with 21, says the Jets need to keep the pace in their game to play well.
“We have guys where they’re supposed to be on the ice. For us, that’s the majority of the battle,” said Wheeler. “When we get that, we play a lot faster and things seem to go a lot faster for us.”
Colorado knows the feeling of injured goaltenders. Semyon Varlamov will start for the Avalanche tonight, after missing five games with a groin injury. He was activated from injured reserve on November 22.
Puck drop tonight is set for 7 pm CT, and Pardy says the Jets are ready for the challenges the team will face with Pavelec out for more than a month.
“There’s obviously challenges when you lose a guy like Pav,” said Pardy. “We’ll battle through it. We’ve done it before with injuries to our D corps, and to our forwards. It’s just one of those things you have to deal with and keep moving forward.”
CALLING ON ARMIA
Before being recalled by the Jets, Joel Armia had recorded three goals and seven points in 15 games with the Manitoba Moose this season.
“Joel went down and did the things we had asked him to do in training camp, and we’re seeing it more consistently in his game. The hands and the speed we think are at an NHL level,” said Maurice. “He is, in some ways, a bit of a prototypical European player in his experience and style of game is different than the game that’s played over here, and he’s made good strides in the first part of the season making those adjustments.”
Maurice compared those adjustments to the ones that Jets forward Alexander Burmistrov has had to make since returning to the team this season.
“For me, it took Alex Burmistrov six or seven weeks. It’s not an easy adjustment to make, even though Alex had played in the National Hockey League,” said Maurice. I don’t know where (Armia) gets in, I like our forward group right now, but he earned the right to be called up.”
Chris Thorburn’s shorthanded goal that proved to be the game-winner over Arizona on Saturday was the fourth time this season the Jets have scored on the penalty kill. That ties for the NHL lead with Montreal and Ottawa.
Thorburn admitted to watching the highlight of his goal a couple times.
“It was awesome just the way the crowd reacted, the guys reacted, and the time of the game it was at. It felt good,” he said. “But it started with Adam Pardy getting it up to (Stafford), and Staff giving me a puck I was able to chase down, and some luck in there with Stone falling and me squeezing it through his arm. Everything kind of came into play there and the end result was our team got two points, so that was key.”
A popular player in the dressing room, the 32-year-old forward admitted the team has been having some fun with him, and the attention he’s received, since the goal.
“They’ve been good about it. Obviously give me the gears a little bit about it, but it goes both ways,” said Thorburn. “We’re just that close and we have fun.”
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com