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Jets' Pavelec valued time as Hedberg's teammate

by Mike G. Morreale

NEWARK, N.J. -- Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec considers himself lucky to have been an understudy of one of the hardest-working goalies to strap on the pads in the National Hockey League -- Johan Hedberg.

Pavelec and Hedberg were partners for three seasons with the then-Atlanta Thrashers from 2007-08 through 2009-10 before Hedberg signed with the New Jersey Devils in July 2010.

The former teammates will be opposite each other on Sunday when the Devils play host to the Jets at Prudential Center.

Hedberg has struggled to find some consistency in the absence of injured starter Martin Brodeur (back soreness). In his past eight starts minus the future Hall of Fame goalie, he's 1-6-1 with a 3.50 goals-against average and .828 save percentage. He's already equaled his loss total (seven) of last season in 15 fewer games.

"I got to be honest, he's played twice against us and has made some big saves … you win and lose as a team," Pavelec told "Sometimes, the game goes a different way than you want. When the whole team struggles, it's tough."

Winnipeg has scored victories in the previous two meetings with the Devils, earning a 4-2 triumph in New Jersey on Feb. 24 and a 3-1 decision in Winnipeg four days later. Pavelec was in goal for both wins, allowing just three goals.

"Moose has been in the League for a while and he understands that tomorrow is a new day; he's a battler every day in practice," Pavelec said. "He was my first partner when I made it in NHL and he helped me a lot.

"I see how he prepared for a game and how he worked in practice. He would have a bad game as we all did, but he always told me to relax -- it's not a sprint, it's a marathon. To me, whatever he said made sense. We had good years together and I enjoyed the time to play with Moose."

Pavelec is making his second straight start between the pipes. In 12 career starts against the Devils, he is 5-3-2 with a 2.30 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. For the season, Pavelec is 9-11-1 with a 2.87 GAA and .901 save percentage.

In addition to Pavelec, improved play on the penalty kill is another reason the Jets have won two of three games on its current four-game road swing. They are a perfect 11-for-11 on the trip, and have denied the opposition the past 21 times shorthanded -- a span of seven games. The club ranks 28th in the League on the penalty-kill with a 76.6 percent efficiency.

"Our goaltending has been great on the PK and that's one reason we've had some success killing penalties," Winnipeg coach Claude Noel said. "We've also been fairly aggressive in the right areas at the right time … we haven't had a breakdown. We're showing confidence to be aggressive."

The Jets have won seven of their past nine road games to improve to 8-5-1 away from the MTS Centre.

Defenseman Derek Meech will replace Paul Postma in the lineup against the Devils. Meech, who was recalled from the team's American Hockey League affiliate in St. John's on Feb. 27, will make his season debut. The 28-year-old Meech, who will be paired with Mark Stuart, had three goals and 24 points in 46 games with the IceCaps this season.

"He's got some good experience in the League so we're just looking for him to play a solid game … he'll be playing on his off side, so that'll be a challenge," Noel said. "He played well in St. John's and brings experience and, hopefully, he'll make our defense better."

Here is the Jets' probable lineup against the Devils:

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler

Evander Kane - Olli Jokinen - Alexander Burmistrov

James Wright - Nik Antropov - Antti Miettinen

Eric Tangradi - Jim Slater - Kyle Wellwood

Ron Hainsey - Zach Bogosian

Grant Clitsome - Dustin Byfuglien

Mark Stuart - Derek Meech

Ondrej Pavelec

Al Montoya

Scratched: Paul Postma

Injured: Zach Redmond, Tobias Enstrom

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

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