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Jets' goalies answering the critics' questions

by Dan Rosen

NEW YORK -- Most of the questions that have been asked about the Winnipeg Jets since before they were even called the Winnipeg Jets have been about goaltending, as in is it good enough and is it Stanley Cup Playoff worthy?

The answers used to be no, and filled with criticism. That doesn't seem to be the case anymore.

Not only did Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson team up to get the Jets into the playoffs last season, the franchise's first trip to the postseason since the Atlanta Thrashers made it in 2007, they have already passed a difficult test this season.

The Jets went 3-1-0 on their season-opening four-game road trip against the Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and New York Rangers largely because Pavelec and Hutchinson combined for a .948 save percentage, allowing seven goals on 136 shots.

The Jets were 26th in shots against per game (34.3) and eighth in save percentage entering play Thursday. The only other team that had allowed more shots per game and had a better save percentage was the Arizona Coyotes (35.3, .981), in one fewer game.

Winnipeg was shorthanded 17 times in the four games, but outscored only 3-1 when down a man.

The Jets play their home opener Friday against the Calgary Flames.

"Our goaltending has been outstanding," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said. "They've been our best players. They were great for us all last year too. No matter who was in there for us they always seemed to come up big. It's nice to see them have a good start because as you know, you need good goaltending in this league to get where you want to go. We need them to come up with that big save, but not as many as we have made them have to come up with."

Penalties were a problem last season, when Winnipeg was shorthanded 308 times, most in the NHL. They're still a problem, but coach Paul Maurice feels the Jets have been a strong enough defensive team, as evidenced by the four goals against they allowed at even strength on the road trip.

Getting the defense in order was Maurice's first priority when he took over midway through the 2013-14 season. It's a big reason why the goaltending has improved.

Winnipeg finished tied for second in 5-on-5 goals against last season (128); it was 22nd in 5-on-5 goals against in the 2013-14 season (164), 27th in 2012-13 (103), and 23rd in 2011-12 (160).

"I would suggest in the past our goaltenders have been unfairly critiqued," Maurice said. "I think over the course of the season last year, when [Pavelec] had his best year, we were just a better defensive hockey team, and they still had to be very good because we were shorthanded an awful lot. I think the view before was the difference between Winnipeg making the playoffs and not was goaltending, and I think that was a substantial misrepresentation of what was happening on the ice."

Defensive woes aside, Pavelec wasn't helping himself. He routinely had among the worst save percentages for No. 1 goalies, including .906 in 2011-12, .905 in 2012-13, and .901 in 2013-14. That's not all on the defense.

However, a surge in confidence, potentially buoyed by the improving defense, helped Pavelec post a .920 save percentage in 50 appearances last season, including .930 at even strength. Hutchinson had a .914 save percentage in 38 appearances, including .925 at even strength.

"Every team that has success has a goaltender that they have confidence in to make those big stops when they do give up scoring chances," Hutchinson said. "Last year, we made good strides forward on that and the team started to gain confidence in us throughout the year. We want to continue it into this year. It's one thing to do it one year, but to be consistent on that just goes more toward the team having confidence so they can jump into the rush and take those extra chances offensively knowing we'll make the saves back there.

"There are always going to be questions, but the object is to win games, and if you win games people will stop asking questions."


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