Skip to main content

Unmasked: Jets tandem allows time to improve

by Kevin Woodley

When it comes to the Winnipeg Jets' goaltending situation, it isn't hard to find people clamoring for rookie Michael Hutchinson to be named the unquestioned No. 1 ahead of incumbent Ondrej Pavelec.

Even a casual glance at their numbers this season shows why: Hutchinson has more wins (15-7-3) than Pavelec (13-11-7) in eight fewer starts, and even though a three-game skid after the All-Star break stopped Hutchinson from leading the NHL in save percentage, he has a distinct edge over Pavelec (.925 to .911).

That may lead to an increased workload for Hutchinson down the stretch as the Jets try to secure their first Stanley Cup Playoff berth since moving back to Winnipeg. But Hutchinson's recent blip starting three straight games for the second time this season isn't the only reason the Jets are happy to have options in goal.

In addition to easing Hutchinson into any expanded role without sacrificing important goalie-specific development time, the split allows Pavelec to continue modernizing and modifying a technical approach that seemed neglected during his first four NHL seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers.

"The beauty of what we have is the opportunity to balance the two goalies," Jets goaltending coach Wade Flaherty told NHL.com. "It gives me time to work with [Pavelec]. We never had the opportunity to do this in-season before because he was playing 65 games a year."

Flaherty wasn't about to break down his goalies' games in public, but he didn't have to.

It doesn't take a doctorate in puck-stopping to see the need to change parts of Pavelec's game. That's amplified when you contrast his play to Hutchinson's.

Forget the numbers; just look at how they move on the ice and where they end up if you want to really see the difference between the two.

Hutchinson plays a more contained game, staying mostly within, or at his most aggressive, on the edge of his crease. That gives him more time to use impressive on-ice vision to read plays and less distance to cover to beat lateral passes and recover from rebounds.

Pavelec has long been known for a more aggressive positional game, often with plenty of white ice between the back of his skates and the edge of his crease. But talk to goaltending coaches around the NHL and they've noticed that gap closing over the past two seasons.

Michael Hutchinson
Goalie - WPG
RECORD: 15-7-3
GAA: 2.18 | SVP: .925
It is part of a plan to add structure to Pavelec's game after relying too often on athleticism early in his career. The payoff for an improved technical approach should be more consistency, but it won't happen overnight, especially after being left to figure it out himself for years.

"This has given us time to work on the fundamentals of the changes," Flaherty said. "It's all about muscle memory and repetition, but it does not work if you do it one day and then he plays four or five games."

The ongoing work goes beyond where Pavelec plays relative to his crease, and includes adding the reverse-VH to his post-integration options. But if there's an easy-to-spot example of old versus new, it's Pavelec's post-save recoveries and use of the pop-up technique.

After making a save, Pavelec liked to pop back up to both skates at the same time and then move laterally toward the rebound. It's an athletic movement that requires a lot of strength, but it's also inefficient relative to modern proper-leg recovery practices.

Most of today's goalies get up from the butterfly with the leg opposite the direction they need to move, which allows them to start that movement, and the hip rotation required to do it properly and powerfully, as they get back up, or they make that lateral movement sliding from their knees.

Breaking that habit takes time, and like getting too far out from his crease, there are times Pavelec will do it in a game. But there is increasing self-awareness when he does.

"He identifies it and reels himself in and almost resets now within a game," Flaherty said. "Usually takes video time to get to, 'OK, now I see it,' but he picks it up on his own now, and that is a big step."

There are more steps to take, and some gaps between Pavelec and Hutchinson may never close. That is especially true of Hutchinson's wider butterfly flexibility, which allows him to flare his skates farther out when he is down on the ice.

Ondrej Pavelec
Goalie - WPG
RECORD: 13-11-7
GAA: 2.54 | SVP: .911
A wider butterfly not only provides better down-low coverage, but it makes it easier (and therefore faster) to grab an edge with his skate on the post-save recovery pushes from side to side. With Pavalec's skates more behind him in a narrower butterfly, he has to lift his knee higher and pull that skate out from behind him before establishing the same edge.

The added hip flexibility allows Hutchinson to seal his posts in the reverse-VH while holding his skate against the iron, whereas Pavelec has to place his skate inside the post and the shin of his pad against it to get a seal, giving him less power pushing off.

Despite some of those physical disadvantages, expect Pavelec to keep pushing to catch up technically. He bought into the changes and spent extra weeks in the summer working to make them more instinctive. Given Pavelec was able to make the NHL with so little structure in his game, the potential upside if he can add it to the athleticism he relied on remains high.

In the meantime, Pavelec's presence allows Hutchinson to keep his technical game sharp. After being pulled from that third straight start coming out of the All-Star break, Hutchinson was on the ice with Flaherty for half an hour the next morning while Pavelec prepared to start the second half of back-to-back games with travel in between.

"That's the issue of one goalie playing night after night after night is, when do you have time to do the fundamental drills or work on the technical side because you are working on rest?" Flaherty said.

It's not an issue the Jets have to worry about right now.

View More

The NHL uses cookies, web beacons, and other similar technologies. By using NHL websites or other online services, you consent to the practices described in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, including our Cookie Policy.