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Pavelec's workload a storyline as Jets chase playoffs

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- An uneasy question permeates nearly every storyline surrounding the Winnipeg Jets this month, and it does not even concern the NHL Trade Deadline.

To what extent should coach Claude Noel rely on workhorse goaltender Ondrej Pavelec heading down the stretch?

As the Jets compete for the Southeast Division title and a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth, questions surround the heavy workload the team has placed on the shoulders of goalie Ondrej Pavelec. (Photo: Lance Thomson/NHLI)

The Jets lead the Southeast Division with a 16-13-2 record, putting the franchise in position to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2007. With a young core starved for postseason experience, pressure exists inside and outside the organizational brain trust to do nearly anything necessary to keep the Jets in the Eastern Conference's top eight at the end of April.

But memories of March 2012 remain fresh in Winnipeg. Pavelec sputtered down the stretch last season with the Jets in the midst of a playoff race. Starting 13 games that month, he went 5-7-1 with a 3.13 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage as the Jets faded from Eastern Conference contention.

Pavelec leads the League in minutes this season and is second in games. Friday evening, Pavelec will make his ninth consecutive start when he faces the Washington Capitals at MTS Centre. In doing so, he will play in back-to-back contests for the second time in the past week for the Jets, who are amid another stretch of three games in four nights. After allowing four goals to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a March 16 game, Pavelec returned the following day against the Ottawa Senators and surrendered another four goals.

The 25-year-old netminder played a career-high 68 games last season. He has started 28 of the Jets' 31 games this season and Friday night will be his 20th start in the past 21 contests. Injuries to backup netminder Al Montoya and Noel's tendency to lean heavily on his No. 1 goaltender account for Pavelec's workload.

Desperate for points, there would not seem to be an obvious opportunity to rest Pavelec. After meeting the Capitals, the Jets return to play Sunday when they play host to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Winnipeg then faces the Carolina Hurricanes on the road Tuesday, a club currently two points back that it is trying to fend off in the Southeast Division race. Thursday, the Jets are on the road against the powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins before returning home Saturday to face the Hurricanes in another key divisional contest.

"I feel good. It's always [a] coach's decision who will be in net. I will be ready whenever they tell me. It's up to them."
-- Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec on his heavy workload

While a softer schedule and a cushion in the playoff race would allow the Jets to feel more comfortable using Montoya, they also have a goaltender in Pavelec who welcomes a heavy workload and said fatigue has not been an issue.

"I feel good," Pavelec said earlier this week. "It's always [a] coach's decision who will be in net. I will be ready whenever they tell me. It's up to them."

Pavelec insists he can handle the workload.

"I feel great … that's exactly what we want -- to play hockey," Pavelec said. "It's always pressure on the goalie. Always. It's my job. It's my job to help the team get points."

"I feel good. It's my job. [Skaters] can do it, so I don't see a reason why goalies can't do it."

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